Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

An Eta Aquarid fireball lights up the sky over Devils Tower, part of the Bear Lodge Mountains in Wyoming. Astrophotographer David Kingham captured this shot during the 2013 Eta Aquarid meteor shower. (Image credit: David Kingham/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This year’s Eta Aquarid meteor shower reaches its peak in the very early pre-dawn hours of May 5 and 6.

The Eta Aquarids get their name because they appear as if they’re coming from the constellation Aquarius. In fact, they’re not … they are “crumbs” of matter left behind by Halley’s Comet, which circles the Sun every 76 years. The comet leaves a “river of rubble” in its wake, and twice a year, Earth passes through that debris (when it passes through in the fall, we see the Orionid meteor shower, and the Eta Aquarids in the spring). When bits of comet interact with the Earth’s atmosphere, they light up and are visible as “shooting stars.”

Because the Moon is close to full, you’ll have the best chance of seeing meteors if you wait until after the Moon has set (about 5:10 am) but before the Sun rises (about 5:45 am). The constellation Aquarius can be difficult to pick out, as it doesn’t have any extremely bright stars, but in general, look toward the south, not far above the horizon. That’s the direction you can expect the meteors to radiate from.

Meteor-watching takes patience, so make yourself comfortable. A lounge chair is ideal, along with a blanket or sleeping bag for warmth. Try to get away from outdoor lighting sources, so you have the darkest view possible.

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