Skywatchers can expect an exciting month of cosmic phenomena, starting with a meteor shower to mark a beautiful start to Cinco de Mayo. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is expected to peak in the early hours of Tuesday, May 5.
With most people stuck inside, isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic, May’s celestial events present a much-needed opportunity to connect with nature. What are the Eta Aquarids? The Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks each year during early May as Earth passes through the debris trail from Halley’s Comet (1P/Halley). The Orionids meteor shower in October also originates from this comet. The famous Halley’s Comet is visible from Earth about every 76 years. It was last seen in 1986 and won’t be visible again until 2061.Each year, when Earth collides with the comet’s orbit, vaporizing debris comes flying into our atmosphere at a whopping 148,000 miles per hour, according to NASA, making the meteors well known for their speed. Fast meteors tend to leave glowing dust “trains” behind them, producing magnificent “shooting stars.” Under normal conditions, the annual meteor shower typically produces about 30 meteors per hour. It’s named for its radiant, or direction of origin, which appears to come from the constellation Aquarius. The Eta Aquarids are one of the best meteor showers of the year for people in the Southern Hemisphere because Aquarius is higher up in the sky there. However, it is also visible in the northern hemisphere.
An image of an Eta Aquarid meteor from the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee, in May 2013.
When and where to watch the Eta AquaridsThe shower is visible in both hemispheres, with the best viewing occurring just before dawn. Locating the radiant point is not necessary for viewing — all you need to do is look up.
Viewing in the Southern Hemisphere is preferable but not necessary. From the northern hemisphere, the shooting stars often appear as “earth grazers” — long meteors that appear to skim the surface of the Earth near the horizon. To view any meteor shower, it is always advised to escape harsh city lights and find an open area. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, allowing about 30 minutes in the dark for your eyes to adjust. Be patient, and don’t forget a blanket! Unfortunately, the shower is peaking very close to a full moon, so only the brightest of shooting stars will be visible. On May 7, the “Super Flower Moon” arrives just in time for the spring flowers to bloom. It will be the fourth and final supermoon of 2020.