Here’s How to Watch the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower Peaking on May 5

May 3, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

meteor shower
Photo credit: Asim Patel/wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This shower is created by the famous Halley’s Comet.

May is turning out to be an exciting month for skywatchers. Not only will Mercury be making a rare transit across the sun on May 9, but the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will also peak in the early morning of May 5.

The Eta Aquarid meteor show is caused by streams of debris in space left behind by Halley’s Comet each time it returns to the inner solar system. Halley’s Comet takes about 76 years to orbit the sun once, and since it was last seen in 1986, it will not be entering the inner solar system again until 2061.

Halley’s debris eventually becomes the Eta Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October when they collide with Earth’s atmosphere. When these pieces of dust and ice plunge into Earth’s atmosphere, they are moving at speeds of 66 kilometers per second (44 miles per second), leaving fiery and colorful streaks that can be seen for several seconds and even up to a couple minutes.

SEE ALSO: Newly Discovered Comet May Force Astronomers to Redefine What a Comet Should Look Like

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is named after the “apparent radiant” — the point in the sky from which Eta Aquarids appear to originate — in the constellation Aquarius, near one of its brightest stars, Eta Aquarii.

According to NASA, the meteor shower will peak during the predawn hours of May 5, but will still be fairly active in the early morning of May 6. However, some Eta Aquarid meteors may be visible for a few days before and after the peak.

Eta Aquarids can be seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, but the Southern Hemisphere is definitely a more preferable location. This is due to the location of the radiant of the Eta Aquarids. The meteors are higher up in the sky in the Southern Hemisphere, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere the meteors are more often viewed as “earthgrazers” — long meteors that appear to skim the surface of the Earth at the horizon.

If you want to watch the Eta Aquarids, you will have to find an area well away from city and street lights. You should also bring something comfortable to lay on or in, lie flat on your back with your feet facing east, and look up. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see some mesmerizing meteors.

Let’s just cross our fingers that there are no clouds obstructing the view.

You may also want to check out this list of other astronomical events you don’t want to miss this year.

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