Eta-Aquariid Meteor Shower

The early hours of dawn on May 6th will see the peak of the η-Aquariid meteor shower. This is a reliable shower that produces anywhere from 30-80 meteors each hour near peak. Known for fast moving meteors that have a tendency to leave glowing, persistent trains, the η-Aquariid meteors may be one of the best bets for island observers in 2019.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion

Resulting from debris left behind by Comet 1P/Halley this shower approaches the Earth from the direction of the constellation Aquarius. As this constellation is quite low in the sky during the shower the meteors are entering the atmosphere at a low angle, this often results in meteors with long trains crossing much of the sky. A good shower that produces great fireballs.

The η-Aquariids seem to peak in activity every 12 years. As we are approaching the peak in this cycle expected in 2020-2022. That said, meteor prediction is an inexact science, no way of knowing ahead of time how good the shower will be.

The ηAquariid shower has a broad peak with several weeks of activity either side of the peak. The entire meteor shower lasts from around April 19 to May 28. Any morning from May 3rd to May 10th can be worth watching with rates to around 30 meteors per hour. The peak itself is predicted for 14:00UT on May 6th, or 04:00HST, but this shower often produces subpeaks as the Earth passes through clouds of debris left on successive orbits of Halley’s Comet.

This stream is associated with Comet 1P/Halley, like the Orionids of October. Shower meteors are only visible for a few hours before dawn essentially from tropical and southern hemisphere sites. Some useful results have come even from places around 40◦ N latitude at times however. Further north, observers can expect only few occasional shower meteors. The ETA is one of the IMO INFO(2-18) 9 best for southern observers and would benefit from increased observer activity generally. The fast and often bright meteors make the wait for radiant-rise worthwhile, and many events leave glowing persistent trains.

IMO 2019 Meteor Calendar

The radiant for the η-Aquariid shower does not rise until the last few hours of dark, about 2:30am, making this an early morning observing exercise. 2019 does offer decent viewing conditions, with new Moon occurring on the 4th, just two days before the peak.

Remember, meteor watching can be enjoyed without any special equipment, just a dark sky and a safe place to watch from. Perhaps a good reason to get out under a dark sky? But then, should you ever need a reason to go observing, just go.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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