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Eta Aquariid meteors before dawn May 6

Watch for Eta Aquariid meteors to streak the nighttime from about 3 a.m. until dawn on May 6. In a dark sky, especially at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the Eta Aquariids can produce up to 20 to 40 meteors per hour – or more. If the moon is out at that time, it’ll likely be low in your western sky, so place yourself in a position whereby the moon is blocked out by a hedgerow of trees, or some such thing, with an otherwise open view of sky.

Want to know when the moon sets in your sky? Click here and remember to check the moonrise and moonset box.

Our sky chart below shows the sky scene from mid-northern latitudes just before the onset of morning twilight. The Y-shaped “Water Jar” is the most prominent feature in the otherwise inconspicuous constellation Aquarius. Incidentally, this distinctive Y-shaped pattern of stars closely aligns with the radiant point of the Eta Aquariid shower. For more on the Eta Aquariid radiant and why more Eta Aquarids are visible from more southerly latitudes, click here.

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Eta Aquarid meteor caught by Mike Taylor Photography in 2014.

Eta Aquarid meteor caught by Mike Taylor Photography in 2014.

If you’re familiar with the Square of Pegasus, you can star-hop to the radiant of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. But you don’t have to find a shower’s radiant point to see the meteors.

This meteor shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, and the tropical and subtropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Appreciably north of 40 degrees north latitude (the latitude of Denver, Colorado), the meteors are few and far between. The early morning twilight at far northern latitudes washes these Eta Aquariid meteors from the sky. At this time of the year, morning twilight comes at a later hour to southerly latitudes.

Once again, the best viewing time is roughly from about two hours to one hour before sunrise. Unsure of your sunrise time? Or when nautical twilight begins? Check our almamac page. No matter where you live, the last hour of darkness just before dawn tends to feature the greatest number of meteors.

Data gathered by the International Meteor Organization seems to suggest a possible connection between Jupiter’s 12-year orbit and the intensity of the Eta Aquariid meteors. Jupiter causes the Eta Aquariid meteor shower to put out a maximum number of meteors in 12-year periods, but to the best of our knowledge, astronomers aren’t expecting increased numbers of Eta Aquariid meteors in 2017.

Every year, as Earth passes through the orbital path of Comet Halley, bit and pieces shed by this comet burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere as Eta Aquariid meteors.

Bottom line: The 2017 Eta Aquariid meteor shower should be at or near its best on May 6 from 3 a.m. until dawn. This shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, and the tropical and subtropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Remember, if the moon is out at that time, it’ll likely be low in your western sky, so place yourself in a position whereby the moon is blocked out by a hedgerow of trees, or some such thing, with an otherwise open view of sky.

EarthSky’s meteor guide for 2017

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