WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2013 – The hours before dawn on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will be the best time to observe the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, caused by remnants of the Haley’s Comet.
Even though Haley’s Comet passed through our inner solar system in 1986 and will not return until 2061, it leaves a trail of cosmic dust every time it goes around the sun. This produces two yearly meteor showers on Earth: Eta Aquari, and the Orionid meteor shower, forecasted to peak on October 21, 2013.
The Eta Aquarids get their name because they seem to radiate from a group of stars that are part of the constellation Aquarius.
The Eta Aquarids will peak in the hours before dawn on Sunday, and will be near peak conditions on Saturday and Monday. Fortunately, the light of the waning crescent moon will not be much of a factor.
In places south of the Equator, stargazers should be able to see 20 to 40 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. However, north of the Equator, the rate is lower.
“Typical Aquarid rates are only 10 meteors per hour at 26 degrees north latitude (Miami, Fla., or Brownsville, Texas), 5 per hour at around 35 degrees latitude (Los Angeles, Calif., or Cape Hatteras, N.C.) and practically zero to the north of 40 degrees (New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia),” says Space.com’s Joe Rao.
So why even get up to watch? Because Eta Aquarid, like all meteor showers, are unpredictable and you may catch a beautiful show.
How to view the Eta Aquarid meteor shower
Timing: The best time to see the Eta Aquarids will be in the hours before dawn on Sunday, known as astronomical twilight. You can calculate astronomical twilight, sunset and sunrise times for specific locations at SunriseSunset.
Location: Location: To get the best view of any meteor shower it is important to get away from city lights and find clear skies. Dark Sky Finder is a website that shows light pollution in and around North American cities. Clear Sky Chart is a 48-hour astronomer’s forecast that can predict whether the sky will be clear and dark at a certain place.
Where to look: EarthSky recommends not looking directly at Aquarius, but the entire sky.
What to look for: Watch for persistent trains, tails of ionized gas that glow for a few seconds after the meteor passes. With luck, you may also catch a glimpse of an “earthgrazer,” a meteor that skims the atmosphere horizontally, “like a bug skimming the side window of an automobile,” according to Joe Rao. Earthgrazers have especially lengthy, long-lasting, and colorful tails.
Patience: Give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. It can sometimes take up to 20 minutes.
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