Look up: Eta Aquariid meteor shower to light up Australian skies in stunning show
The Eta Aquariid meteor shower, occurring annually each May, is one of the highlights of the year for sky gazers.
This week turn your watch to the night sky between about 2am and the beginning of twilight to catch a view of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower. It’s considered to be one of the best meteor showers visible from the southern hemisphere. This year, the Moon will not be in the sky at the time, so the conditions will be very good if you have no clouds to block your view. You’ll get the better view if you can be in a dark country location, well away from city lights.
According to Dr Martin George, astronomy speaker and writer, and Chair of International Development and Elections, International Planetarium Society, meteor showers are seen when Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind in the orbit of a comet.
“The most famous of the comets is Comet Halley, which was last seen in our part of the Solar System in 1986,” Dr George says.
“Earth passes through Comet Halley’s stream of material twice each year, in May and October. As small pieces of the comet collide with Earth, we see them as brief streaks of light in the sky. The showers last for a period of a few weeks each time, but are at their best during the peak period.
“Meteors in a shower appear to radiate from a point in the sky known as the radiant. This is an effect of perspective, because the meteors are actually travelling parallel to each other. The radiant is in the constellation of Aquarius, near the star Eta Aquarii, but the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.
“Face to the north east, in a location with a wide view of the sky. You may see up to about 30 meteors per hour. The highest rates are likely to occur just as twilight begins, when the radiant is higher in the sky.”