Gather round, stargazers – the Eta Aquarids meteor shower will reach its peak this week.
Taking place every year between April 19 and May 28, these fast-moving meteors barrel into Earth’s atmosphere at around 148,000mph. While this particular shower is known for its speed, quick meteors are known for leaving ‘trains’, explained by NASA as ‘incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor which last for several seconds to minutes’.
While it’s best-viewed in the southern hemisphere, anyone in the northern hemisphere can look up to the sky and see a passing meteor. It’ll peak later this week, but you’ll able to see them tonight too.
The meteor shower originates from the 1P/Halley comet, with grains of ice and rock from its last visit to the inner atmosphere turning into Eta Aquarids in May and Orionids in October if they collide with Earth’s atmosphere.
The comet itself won’t be seen by casual observers again until at least 2061, having last been spotted in 1986. It’s said to take 76 years to orbit the sun once.
It was first discovered by Edmund Halley in 1975 after predicting the orbit using past observations – however, once they were gathered together, it’s believed sightings as far back as 1066 may have been recording the same comet.
The shower is set to reach its peak on Thursday, May 6. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s expected you’ll be able to see around 10 meteors every hour. Those in the southern hemisphere will be able to see up to 30 an hour, due to the difference in latitudes.
On NASA’s website, it explains, ‘The constellation of Aquarius – home to the radiant of the Eta Aquarids – is higher up in the sky in the southern hemisphere than it is in the northern hemisphere.’
It adds, ‘In the northern hemisphere, Eta Aquarid meteors can more often be seen as earthgrazers… long meteors that appear to skim the surface of the Earth at the horizon.’
If you’re keen to check out the meteor shower, it’s rather simple. You don’t need any special equipment, NASA says, just ‘find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible’.
You need to allow yourself around 30 minutes in the dark for your eyes to adapt to the night sky. Try and be patient, because you’ll eventually see the meteors right through to the early hours of the next morning.