Time to gear up for a meteor shower

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Sky-watchers are in for a visual feast during second half of April and most of May, when the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower takes place.

The shower should kick in and be visible in both the northern and southern hemispheres around April 19 and continue until May 28. It should peak, producing in the region of 40 visible meteors per hour, on May 5.

The event is named after the brightest star in the constellation Aquarius, from which the shooting stars seem to originate. In reality, however, they are actually particles of dust thrown off Halley’s Comet.

The particles are only a couple of millimetres in size, and burn up as the Earth passes through the dispersed tail of the comet. Halley’s is responsible for two meteor showers each year, the other being the Orionids every October.

The Eta Aquariids are not as numerous as the Perseids, which are visible every August, but they are just as bright if not brighter.

Visibility will be widespread in both hemispheres, although it strengthens with proximity to the equator. In America, meteor-spotters in New York will be able to see them clearly – as long as they find a spot far enough away from the city itself to escape its radiant light – but those in Miami will have a better view.

The best viewing opportunities for the Eta Aquariids, however, are always in the southern hemisphere, because at this time of year it is transitioning into winter and the nights are thus longer and darker.

The best general tips for having the most fun spotting the meteors revolve around finding a position away from ambient light, taking along a comfortable blanket to lie on, staying warm and not having anything important to do the following morning.

For location-specific information, anywhere in the world, check here.

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