ETA AQUARIUS: A POST WINTER SPARKLE

For those not opposed to going through some early morning hours from city lights under the stars, the early piece of May might astonish with a post-winter display!

Meteor showers happen at very much characterized occasions during the year, enduring from a couple of days to half a month.

The three M’s: Meteor, Meteoroids, Meteorites!

Meteors, regularly called meteorites, have nothing to do with stars by any means. They begin as meteoroids which are basically small ‘morsels’ deserted by comets or, every so often, space rocks. These parts keep on orbiting the Sun, following the ways of their parent bodies. If those orbital paths happen to intersect with Earth’s orbit, Earth passes through those crumbs every year. The ones that strike Earth’s air are called ‘meteors,’ showing up as splendid streaks in the sky, as they wreck because of air rubbing at high elevations, commonly known as “shooting stars”.

Whenareshowers best noticed?

Showers are best observed in the early hours of the morning from about 1 or 2 a.m. through until dawn. This is because as Earth orbits the Sun, its ‘leading’ side, or bow if you think of Earth as a ship, is the morning side – i.e.:  from 12 am to 12 pm. Imagine Earth plowing through a field of space dust with the bow collecting most of it and the stern seeing only a few, and you’ll get the idea.

Eta Aquariid and beyond!

The annual Eta-Aquarid shower begins about April 20th and lasts for five weeks or so. Unlike most meteor showers, there is no sharp peak for the Eta Aquarids. Instead, a plateau of good rates can be enjoyed for about a week. This year the peak centers around May 2nd/3rd happily coinciding with the new moon, potentially making for excellent dark sky viewing.

The crumbs that create this shower originates from the most famous of all comets, comet Halley. This shower’s meteors are also known for their speed. Striking Earth’s atmosphere at 66 km/s they sometimes leave glowing trains in their wakes.

Origin of Eta Aquarids: Showers seem to emanate from particular directions in the sky unique to themselves. The direction is known as a shower’s radiant. The Eta Aquarids get their name from their radiant which is in the constellation of Aquarius (the water bearer), quite close to one of its brightest stars, Eta Aquarii. This star is one of the four that make up the top of the ‘water jar’.

Globally, the Eta Aquarids are one of the most active showers, peaking at around 60 meteors per hour. If the constellation Aquarius was at our zenith (overhead), and we could observe the whole sky at once, we might observe 60 meteors in an hour. It is never directly overhead from our latitudes but is still well placed for observation. In the hours just before dawn, it will be rising quite high between the east and northeast. The further north you are, the better.

Eta Aquarids this year:

In 2020, the forecast calls for the greatest number of Eta Aquariid meteors to fall before dawn on (or near) May 5. However, this shower has a rather broad maximum, so the day before or after may present just as many meteors. Unfortunately, the almost-full waxing gibbous moon will obtrude on the show during the expected peak mornings for this year’s Eta Aquariid meteor shower. You might be better off viewing this shower in early May 2020, with no moon to ruin the production during the predawn hours on May 1, 2, and 3, 2020.

If possible, get to a place where city lights won’t spoil your viewing, carry a blanket, or a comfortable chair, along with some healthy dollops of patience. Be sure to check the weather! Clouds and rain will definitely spoil your night. Round up some friends and you’ll not only make it a fun sociable experience, but you’ll also maximize the amount of sky being observed.

Happy Skywatching!

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