Catch the Meteor Shower on May the 4th (and 5th)

It seems that the heavens may be celebrating Star Wars day and Cinco de Mayo with a meteor shower. The Eta Aquariid shower will be visible in the Northern hemisphere just before dawn (an approximate 2-hour window). Peak activity will be on May 5 and 6. Viewers in the southern tropics will have a better view with more meteors.

The shower is from bits of ice and dust from Halley’s comet, which last appeared in 1986 and will not appear again until 2061 (for the 31st observed time). These particles separated from the comet many hundreds of years ago. Meteor showers from the comet “leftovers” appear twice a year, in May (the Eta Aquariid) and October (the Orionids)

To view the meteors, look toward the eastern sky and center your view about halfway up. The Eta Aquariid meteors should shoot swiftly up from the eastern horizon. Other, slower meteors may also be visible. The Eta Aquariid meteors will be traveling at about 151,200 miles per hour, and many (about half) will leave persistent glowing trails.

Note that meteor activity may be irregular, so you may see no meteors for a period of 10–15 minutes and then a “clump” of meteors within a few minutes. As the moon is almost full, its light will affect viewing. Viewers in the southern hemisphere may have between 20 and 40 meteors an hour, whereas those in the northern hemisphere may have between 10 and 30.

The Eta Aquariid showers were first sighted in 1870, and their connection to Halley’s comet was posited by Professor Alexander Stewart Herschel in 1876.

In addition to the moon, viewing will also be affected by local light conditions. Be sure to let your eyes time to adjust to the dark to better see the meteors.

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