Our planet is spinning through a cloud of debris left by one of the most famous comets in space, and it’s bringing with it an interesting and reliable meteor shower. Join Slooh as we watch the Eta Aquariids peak together on May 5, 2016.
On the night of the shower’s peak, Slooh will present a live broadcast, perfectly formulated to accompany you along your stargazing journey. We’ll have fascinating facts, fun anecdotes, and intriguing ancient stories of heroes and monsters.
The annual Eta Aquariids happen when Earth passes through an old stream of icy and dusty debris from the most famous of comets, Comet 1/P Halley. We pass through a second stream of Halley’s Comet in late October. This results in the Orionid meteor shower. So if you missed Halley’s comet during its last apparition in 1986, you can at least see sand-grain-sized bits of the comet burn up in the atmosphere during these two meteor showers.
The Eta Aquariids takes its name from the 4th magnitude star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. The star is 168 light years away and has no physical relation to the meteor shower. But the meteors appear to trace their paths back to a point in the sky near this star as the Earth moves through the leftover flakes of Comet Halley.
Because Aquarius lies well south of the celestial equator, this is a better meteor shower for observers in the southern hemisphere and ranks as perhaps the best for deep-southern stargazers. Rates of 30-60 meteors per hour are typical. Northern stargazers can see perhaps half that many near peak, but it’s still an impressive event. The Eta Aquarids on average are quite speedy and enter the atmosphere at 66 km/s (148,000 mph).
As with most meteor showers, the hours before twilight, as the Earth turns into the meteor stream, are the best time to spot the Eta Aquarids. You don’t need to find the star Eta Aquarii to see the meteors. They can appear anywhere in the sky.