The waxing crescent moon and planet Jupiter are beautiful in the western sky at dusk and early evening on May 4, 2014. They’re a wonderful prelude to the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which will place in the predawn hours before sunrise on May 5 and 6.
Eta Aquarid meteors are peppering the sky now, in the wee hours before dawn. The forecast calls for the greatest number of meteors to light up the predawn darkness over the next few mornings. The peak is expected to come on Tuesday morning – May 6, 2014 – in the hour before dawn begins to light the sky. Astronomers call this time astronomical twilight. Don’t know when astronomical twilight begins in your sky? Find out with this handy custom sunrise-sunset calendar.
Under ideal conditions, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower produces up to 20 to 40 meteors per hour. The shower is best seen in the Southern Hemisphere, but all of Earth will catch some meteors. Luckily, the waxing crescent moon will set well before the peak hours of this year’s Eta Aquarid display. Although the more southerly latitudes have the better view of this shower, tropical and subtropical latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere still enjoy a decent view of the annual Eta Aquarid meteors. North of 40o north latitude the meteors tend to be fewer. But no matter where you live worldwide, the greatest number of meteors usually fall in the dark hours just before dawn.
The point in the sky from which meteors in annual showers appear to radiate is called the meteor shower radiant. You don’t have to locate the radiant to watch the Eta Aquarid meteors, but people always ask about them. Although the Eta Aquarid meteors streak all over the sky, they appear to radiate from the Y-shaped group of stars called the Water Jar. The Water Jar is part of the constellation Aquarius.
To star-hop to the Water Jar, first of all find the four stars of the Great Square of Pegasus. (See sky chart at bottom right.) Looking eastward at about 4 a.m. (Daylight Saving Time), the Great Square of Pegasus glitters like a celestial baseball diamond. Imagine the bottom star as home base. Draw a line from the third base star through the first base star, then go twice that distance to locate the star Sadal Melik.
To the lower left of Sadal Melik is the small Y-shaped Water Jar, marking the approximate radiant of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Again, you don’t need to know the shower’s radiant point to watch the meteors!
Bottom line: In 2014, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks before dawn on May 5 and 6. This is a great shower for the Southern Hemisphere! But all of Earth will see meteors, and the moon will be out of the way during the peak hours after midnight. Watch in a dark sky, and expect 20 to 40 per hour. Have fun!