Look up for the dazzling Eta Aquariid meteor shower

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May kicks off with the Eta Aquariid meteor shower, and experts are anticipating a better show than in recent years, according to the American Meteor Society.

During the period when the meteor shower is expected to peak — in the early morning hours of Sunday and Monday, according to EarthSky — the moon, in its new moon phase, will only be 6% illuminated. Experts suggest keeping an eye on the sky between 2 and 5 a.m. local time.

The Eta Aquariid shower is often considered the best meteor shower of the year for the Southern Hemisphere, where sky-watchers could see between 20 and 40 meteors each hour, or perhaps even more, according to EarthSky. In the Northern Hemisphere, observers can expect to see between 10 and 20 meteors in the hours before dawn, according to NASA.

The source of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower is Halley’s comet. Earth crosses the comet’s orbital path each spring between April and May, causing small grains of rock and dust shed by the comet to strike our planet’s atmosphere and create a dazzling meteor display. It happens again in October, resulting in the Orionid meteor shower.

Halley’s comet was last visible streaking across Earth’s night sky in 1986, and it will swing back by in 2061 as it travels on a 76-year orbit around the sun.

The meteors appear to be coming from the northeastern part of the Aquarius constellation, which contributes to the name of the shower.

The rate of visible meteors per hour this year is “expected to be enhanced by debris perturbed by Jupiter in a direction closer to the Earth,” according to the American Meteor Society. “This last occurred in 2013, when rates were significantly enhanced.”

Astronomers anticipated higher rates from the Eta Aquariids in 2023, but a full moon outshone the meteors, and scientists couldn’t verify whether the enhancement occurred. But with no lunar interference on the horizon, the rate of visible meteors could double if the enhancement happens, according to the American Meteor Society.

If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t littered with city lights that will obstruct your view.

Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness — without looking at your phone — so meteors are easier to spot.

The American Meteor Society is inviting spectators to share their observations of the shower, which will help astronomers determine whether there were more meteors than expected.

“The eta Aquariids will offer a good chance of seeing the strongest activity from this source until the 2040’s,” according to a post shared by the American Meteor Society.
“We highly encourage everyone with clear skies to observe during this time and to share your observations. We wish you good luck and look forward to seeing your results!”

Here are the remaining meteor showers to anticipate in 2024.

Meteor showers

Southern delta Aquariids: July 29-30

Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31

Perseids: August 11-12

Draconids: October 7-8

Orionids: October 20-21

Southern Taurids: November 4-5

Northern Taurids: November 11-12

Leonids: November 17-18

Geminids: December 13-14

Ursids: December 21-22

Full moons

Each month’s full moon is associated with a specific name, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. But the full moons have a variety of names and meanings, according to different Indigenous tribes.

May 23: Flower moon

June 21: Strawberry moon

July 21: Buck moon

August 19: Sturgeon moon

September 17: Harvest moon

October 17: Hunter’s moon

November 15: Beaver moon

December 15: Cold moon

Solar and lunar eclipses

An annular solar eclipse will occur in the sky on October 2 over parts of South America. This type of eclipse is similar to a total solar eclipse, except the moon is at the farthest point in its orbit from Earth, so it can’t completely block the sun. Instead, annular solar eclipses create a “ring of fire” in the sky as the sun’s fiery light surrounds the moon’s shadow.

A partial lunar eclipse, when Earth moves between the sun and the full moon without being perfectly aligned, will appear over Europe and much of Asia, Africa, North America and South America between September 17 and 18.

Check Time and Date’s website to see when each of these eclipses will appear.

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