Looking for info on the May 8, 2013 bright meteor over the UK? Click here.
The Lyrid meteor shower – which peaked before dawn April 22, 2013 – wasn’t great for skywatchers in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. The radiant point for the Lyrids – or point in the sky from which the meteors appear to radiate – is far northward on the sky’s dome. But a shower is coming up that will make our friends in the Southern Hemisphere very happy indeed. We’re pleased to inform southern (and northern) skywatchers that one meteor shower in particular – the Eta Aquarid shower – is a fine one to view from both northerly and southerly latitudes. No matter where you live, you can watch the Eta Aquarids in early May. Plus the moon is not a problem for this shower this year!
The 2013 Eta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors in the dark hours before dawn on Sunday, May 5. However, the broad peak of the Eta Aquarid shower may present similarly strong showings during the predawn hours on Saturday, May 4, and Monday, May 6. In a dark sky, especially at more southerly latitudes, the Eta Aquarids can produce up to 20 to 40 meteors per hour. From mid-northern latitudes, you might only see about 10 meteors per hour.
What’s more, the thin waning crescent moon won’t seriously obtrude on this year’s Eta Aquarid meteor display. Once again, the best time to watch these meteors is in the early morning hours, before the onset of morning twilight, on May 4, 5 and 6, 2013. Don’t know when twilight begins in your part of the world? Try one of the links on our almanac page.
Radiant point of the Eta Aquarid shower
If you trace the paths of the Eta Aquarid meteors backward, they all seem to radiate from a certain point in front of the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer. This point on the sky’s dome is called the radiant of the meteor shower, which nearly aligns with the faint star Eta Aquarii. Hence, the meteor shower is named in honor of this star.
Eta Aquarii is one of the four stars making up the Y-shaped Water Jar asterism in the northern part of Aquarius. If you can find the Water Jar in the constellation Aquarius, you’ve as good as located the radiant point for the Eta Aquarid meteors. However, the alignment of the radiant and the star is coincidental. Eta Aquarii looms some 170 light-years away while the Eta Aquarid meteors burn up about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
The higher the radiant appears in your sky, the more Eta Aquarid meteors that you’re likely to see. The radiant soars highest in the nighttime sky just before dawn, so that’s why you see the most meteors in the wee morning hours.
But you don’t have to locate the Water Jar, or the radiant of the shower, to enjoy the Eta Aquarids. These meteors fly every which way across the sky, in front of numerous constellations. Find a dark, open sky away from artificial lights, and sprawl out on a reclining lawn chair to comfortably watch the wondrous nighttime attraction.
Halley’s Comet: Source of Eta Aquarid meteor shower
Every year, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Halley’s Comet in late April and May, so bits and pieces from this comet light up the nighttime as Eta Aquarid meteors at this time. This shower is said to be active from April 19 to May 20, although Earth plows most deeply into this stream of comet debris around May 5 or 6.
The comet dust smashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at nearly 240,000 kilometers (150,000 miles) per hour. Roughly half of these swift-moving meteors leave persistent trains – ionized gas trails that glow for a few seconds after the meteor has passed.
Our planet also crosses the orbital path of Halley’s Comet at the other end of the year, giving rise to the Orionid meteor shower, which is forecasted to peak on October 21, 2013.
How to watch the Eta Aqaurid shower
Give yourself at least an hour of viewing time for watching any meteor shower. Meteors tend to come in spurts that are interspersed by lulls. Also, it can take as long as 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.
You need no special equipment to watch a meteor shower, but a little luck always helps. Meteor watching is a lot like fishing. Sometimes you catch a good number of them and sometimes you don’t. Why not see how many Eta Aquarid meteors you’ll catch in the dark hours before dawn on May 4, 5 and 6?
Bottom line: What’s a good shower for both the Northern ad the Southern Hemispheres? In 2013, the next one will be the Eta Aquarid shower on the mornings of May 4, 5, and 6. How to watch, some history, chart showing radiant point in this post.