The Eta Aquariids meteor shower will peak tonight, filling the sky with up to 40 shooting stars an hour as Earth passes through the debris trail left by Halley’s Comet.
The annual event lights up the sky from the middle of April until the end of May, as meteors shed by the comet hundreds of years ago burn up in the atmosphere.
Astronomers said that to watch the shower you should ‘get a comfy chair’ and be prepared to sit outside for hours — but you won’t need binoculars or a telescope.
This meteor shower is best viewed in the southern hemisphere, but should be visible from most places on Earth, weather permitting.
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The next meteor shower to light up the sky will be the Eta Aquariids and it will see dozens of shooting stars per hour this weekend – ending at the peak on Tuesday
The meteors originate from Eta Aquarii – one of the brightest stars in the Aquarius constellation. For people in mid to northern latitudes, the radiant won’t be very high in the sky, so you should be able to spot the meteors on the southern horizon
The Eta Aquariids are named after the constellation Aquarius as they fall from that point in the sky and specifically the star Eta Aquarii.
‘For the best conditions, you want to find a safe location away from street lights and other sources of light pollution,’ according to the Royal Museums Greenwich.
The meteor shower will be best viewed in the southern hemisphere but will be visible in the northern hemisphere – just not as clearly.
The Moon will be in its waxing gibbous phase during the peak of the shower but it will be below the horizon before dawn and shouldn’t damper the viewing.
When out watching them don’t just stare in on direction as you might miss the brightest and most impressive shooting stars off to the side.
The best way to watch for them, according to NASA, is to lie on your back and look straight up as it gives you the widest view of the sky without getting neck strain.
Meteors are pieces of debris that enter the atmosphere at speeds of up to 148,000 miles per hour – as they do so they vaporise and cause streaks of light.
They are the flashes of dust grains burning in the atmosphere left behind as the Earth passes the path of a comet.
That’s the reason they appear on certain dates and return annually – as these comets are on an orbit and leave debris in certain parts of space.
Renowned for their speed the meteors will be entering the earth’s atmosphere and will leave a trail of glowing debris following them.
They’re best viewed in Australia because they rise to about 50 degrees in the sky, which is the best angle to view them from.
Physicist Clare Kenyon from the University of Melbourne told the ABC the angle is perfect because it’s above the horizon and has less of a chance hiding behind trees.
‘You’re actually best to not have equipment,’ Ms Kenyon said.
The Earth experiences a meteor shower when the Earth’s orbit coincides with the comet’s. Pictured is the Eta Aquarids Meteor shower taken over three nights over Devils Tower in Wyoming
‘You don’t want a telescope, you don’t want binoculars, you don’t want to be zooming in on any part of the sky. It’s the ideal stargazing activity to begin with because you don’t need equipment, except maybe a blanket and a thermos.’
The next major meteor shower will be the Perseids in August with over 100 shooting stars per hour at their peak and showing as bright, fast meteors.
Eta Aqauriids don’t produce as many stars per hour as the Perseids but astronomers say they’ll be just as bright if not brighter.
According to Royal Museums Greenwich there is no specific peak for the Eta Aquariids, they tend to just plateau at a good rate over a week up to May 7.
It is one of two showers created by the debris from Halley’s Comet – the other is the Orionid meteor shower in October with 25 shooting stars per hour.
There are another nine meteor showers happening throughout 2020 including the Perseids
- Delta Aquariids: July 29-30 2020 – 20 per hour – Steady stream over days
- Alpha Capricornids: July 29-30 2020 – 5 per hour – Yellow slow fireballs
- Perseids: August 12-13 – 100 per hour – Bright, fast meteors with trains
- Draconids: October 8-9 – 10 per hour – From comet Giacobini-Zimmer
- Orionids: October 21-22 – 25 per hour – Fast with fine trains
- Taurids: October 9-10 (Southern), November 10-11 (Northern) – 10 per hour
- Leonids: November 17-18 – 15 per hour – Fast and bright
- Geminids: December 14-15 – 100+ per hour – Bright and plentiful
- Ursids: December 21-22 – <10 per hour - Sparse shower