Eta Aquariid meteor shower visible across the UK this week
After the spectacle of last month’s Lyrid meteor shower, skywatchers have another treat in store this week as the Eta Aquariids get underway.
However, unlike the Lyrids, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower won’t be as easy to see even as it peaks this week.
The most meteors will be flying just before dawn on Tuesday, 5 May and Wednesday, 6 May.
Unfortunately, this is also the time when the night sky will be filled by a full waxing gibbous moon shining brightly.
The moonlight could interfere with your ability to spot the meteors as they streak across the sky. If you’re going to try and see them, it’s best advised to try and blot out the moon with the side of a building or some other obstacle to give you a clearer and darker view of as much of the sky as possible.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower really favours the southern hemisphere, where the moon doesn’t get in the way. Down there it’s possible to see up to 40 meteors an hour, but up here in the UK we’ll have to adjust our expectations a bit. It’s more likely that sky watchers here will see about 10 meteors per hour during the best nights.
What causes the Eta Aquariid meteor shower?
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower is caused as the Earth moves through the debris caused by Halley’s comet.
Every year around April and May we pass through the orbital path of Halley’s comet and dust and rock smashes into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at nearly 150,000mph.
Interestingly, we also pass through the tail of the comet later in the year – which gives rise to the Orionid meteor shower.
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower derives its name because if you trace the origins of the meteors as they fall, they appear to come from the constellation of Aquarius. Eta Aquarii is one of the stars in the northern part of the constellation and that’s where the name comes from.
‘The Eta Aquarids peak during early-May each year. Eta Aquarid meteors are known for their speed,’ explains Nasa.
‘These meteors are fast – travelling at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into Earth’s atmosphere.
‘Fast meteors can leave glowing “trains” (incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor) which last for several seconds to minutes.
‘In general, 30 Eta Aquarid meteors can be seen per hour during their peak.’
How to see the Eta Aquariids meteor shower
You won’t need any special equipment to see the meteors, just a warm coat and a lot of patience.
Nasa explained: ‘To view the Eta Aquarids find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
‘Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.
‘After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.’
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