THE Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaked last night – but clearer skies this evening mean you’ve got a better chance to spy a fireball overhead.
Look to the skies this evening in an east/southeast direction.
How to see the Eta Aquariids meteor shower
Although the shower is best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, it’s still visible in Northern Hemisphere countries like the UK and US.
Northern viewers will just need to look lower down on the horizon.
Try looking very late on May 5 or into the early hours of May 6.
You’re more likely to see the Eta Aquariids meteors just before dawn.
The Eta Aquariids meteor shower is usually active from around April 19 to May 28 each year[/caption]
During the peak, which should be around May 5 and 6, stargazers could see up to 30 meteors an hour.
You shouldn’t need any special equipment to see the meteor shower but clear skies will help.
It may be useful to locate the Aquarius constellation as the meteors appear to radiate from there.
Downloading a stargazing scanning app for your smartphone may help you locate it.
However, the meteors can appear all over the sky so you may not want to look at one place for the whole time.
It’s best to be in a dark location with limited light like the bottom of a garden or a countryside spot.
Royal Museums Greenwich advises: “Hunting for meteors, like the rest of astronomy, is a waiting game, so it’s best to bring a comfy chair to sit on and to wrap up warm as you could be outside for a while.
“They can be seen with the naked eye so there’s no need for binoculars or a telescope, though you will need to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark.”
The bad news is that the weather in the UK isn’t particularly great on May 5.
So you’ll have to be lucky to get a break in the clouds – or there’s no chance of spotting a meteor soaring overhead.
What is the Eta Aquariids meteor shower?
The Eta Aquariids meteor shower is usually active from around April 19 to May 28 each year.
Eta Aquarii, the brightest star in the Aquarius constellation, gives the shower its name.
This is because the meteors appear to radiate from this direction.
The Eta Aquarids is actually one of two meteor showers created by debris from the Comet Halley.
Meteors appear when dust and rock crashes into the Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 150,000mph.
Earth will pass through Halley’s path again in October, which will result in the Orionid meteor shower.
“The Eta Aquarids peak during early-May each year. Eta Aquarid meteors are known for their speed,” explains Nasa.
“These meteors are fast – travelling at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into Earth’s atmosphere.
“Fast meteors can leave glowing “trains” (incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor) which last for several seconds to minutes.
“In general, 30 Eta Aquarid meteors can be seen per hour during their peak.”
Eta Aquarid meteors are known for their speed, according to Nasa[/caption]
What is Halley’s Comet?
Comet Halley or Halley’s Comet is one of the most famous comets, and was given its name after its discoverer, the astronomer Edmond Halley.
He looked into reports of a comet approaching in 1531, 1607, and 1682, and concluded they were all the same one.
Comet Halley is the only known short-period comet that is often visible to the naked eye from Earth.
Although its dust is regularly seen, the actual comet itself isn’t due to be visible until 2061.
What's the difference between an asteroid, meteor and comet?
- Asteroid: An asteroid is a small rocky body that orbits the Sun. Most are found in the asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) but they can be found anywhere (including in a path that can impact Earth)
- Meteoroid: When two asteroids hit each other, the small chunks that break off are called meteoroids
- Meteor: If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to vapourise and then becomes a meteor. On Earth, it’ll look like a streak of light in the sky, because the rock is burning up
- Meteorite: If a meteoroid doesn’t vapourise completely and survives the trip through Earth’s atmosphere, it can land on the Earth. At that point, it becomes a meteorite
- Comet: Like asteroids, a comet orbits the Sun. However rather than being made mostly of rock, a comet contains lots of ice and gas, which can result in amazing tails forming behind them (thanks to the ice and dust vapourising)
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Will you be stargazing this week? Let us know in the comments…
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