The sky will provide a socially distant entertainment activity for stargazers this week: the annual Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower.
The May meteor shower is bits of ice and space dust left behind from Halley’s Comet that crash into Earth’s atmosphere, creating what we see as shooting stars. The annual shower serves as a reminder of the famed fireball only visible from Earth every 75 years or so. Its last sighting was in 1986, putting its next expected sighting in 2061.
This year’s meteor shower is expected to peak between Monday and Wednesday night, and is best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, where the night is longer at this time of year.
But Northern Hemisphere viewers will have a chance to see the shower between 3 a.m. and dawn, International Meteor Organization Secretary General Robert Lunsford tells NPR.
“You can see them from anywhere as long as the sky is clear,” Lunsford said. But the shower won’t be as good this year as it was last May, he says, because the moon will be full on Thursday, reducing the visibility of meteors.
Viewers should look due east to see the shooting stars, which will be coming up from the horizon and moving quickly across the night sky from their origin in the constellation Aquarius.
Observers in the Northern Hemisphere can expect to see between five and 10 meteors per hour, depending on weather conditions.The more dry and clear the night, the better chance of seeing the shower. In Australia, stargazers reported up to 37 meteors per hour in good conditions.
The key to a successful shower experience, says Lunsford, is to get comfortable.
“Don’t step outside and stand there and expect to see meteor activity,” he says. Instead, he suggests grabbing a lawn chair and a warm blanket and setting up camp in the darkest area possible. “If you’re comfortable, you’re gonna see a lot more activity.”
And if being awake at 4 a.m. is not feasible, more vibrant showers including the Perseids and the Geminids will come later this year with better sky conditions in August and December.