Before dawn these next several mornings – May 4, 5 and 6, 2020 – meteors from the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower will be will flying, though in the glaring light of the almost-full waxing gibbous moon. We expect the morning of May 5 to showcase the peak number of meteors. But try the morning before and after as well, as this meteor shower has a relatively broad peak. The morning before (May 4, 2020) might be the best of these upcoming three days, because the moon will set at an earlier hour on May 4. Even so, you won’t have much moon-free viewing time before dawn on May 4.
Click here to find out when the moon sets in your sky, remembering to check the moonrise and moonset box.
Although the shower can be seen from all parts of Earth, the Eta Aquariids are especially fine from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, and from the more southerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Appreciably north of 40 degrees north latitude (the latitude of Denver, Colorado; Beijing, China; and Madrid, Spain), the meteors are few and far between. The reason has to do with the time of twilight and sunrise on the various parts of Earth. To learn more, check this post on why more Eta Aquariid meteors are visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
It also helps to know that – as seen from all parts of Earth – the dark hour before dawn typically presents the greatest number of Eta Aquariid meteors.
Want to know when morning dawn first starts to light up your sky? Click here and remember to check the astronomical twilight box.
Like most meteors in annual showers, the Eta Aquariids are debris left behind by a comet, and, in this case, it’s a very famous comet indeed. 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.
Under ideal conditions, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower produces up to 20 to 40 meteors per hour. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, and you have a very dark sky, you might see that many since this year, in 2019, there is no moon to ruin the show.
And, as always for meteor-watching, be sure to avoid city lights …
Bottom line: In 2020, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower produces the most meteors before dawn on May 5, thoughin a moonlit sky.