ETA Aquarids meteor shower set to peak this week - here's how you can watch it

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 1:00 pm
The meteor shower will be most visible on the evening of May 5. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The meteor shower will be most visible on the evening of May 5. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The UK’s night sky will be lit up with several shooting stars this week as planet earth passes through leftover dust from Halley’s Comet.

The phenomenon, known as the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, will see around 50 meteors per hour show up through the night of May 5 and into the early hours of May 6.

It’s created by Halley’s Comet, which orbits the sun once every 76 years, and intersects with the Earth’s orbit around the sun twice per year.

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The first intersection creates the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower, while the second creates the Orionids meteor shower in October.

This is where and when you’ll have the greatest chance to see the shower - and when the next ones will be visible in the night sky.

When will the shower be at its peak?

Eta Aquarid will be visible from April 19 until May 28, but the peak for viewing will be the night of Wednesday May 5 into the following Thursday - when up to 50 meteors per hour will be visible in the sky.

How can I see the meteor shower?

US space agency Nasa offers the following advice for your best shot at viewing the phenomenon:

“To view the Eta Aquarids find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.

“Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. ‘After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

Staying outdoors and allowing your eyes time to adjust to the dark is also helpful for the greatest visibility.

Where do meteors come from?

Meteors come from particles leftover from comets and bits of broken asteroids, according to Nasa.

“When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky”, explains the space agency.

Meteoroids from Halley’s Comet travel into the Earth’s atmosphere at an astonishing speed of 150,000 miles per hour (240,000kph), but burn up when they enter the atmosphere.

Where does the name Eta Aquarids come from?

The Eta Aquarids is named after the constellation of Aquarius in the southern hemisphere, where it looks as though the shooting stars emerge from.

When will the next UK meteor shower take place?

If you miss the Eta Aquarids there’s no need to worry - there are plenty of showers later in the year which will be visible in UK skies. This includes the following:

Delta Aquariids

Visible: 13 July – 24 August

Peak: 30 July

Alpha Capricornids

Visible: 2 July – 14 August

Peak: 30 July

Perseids

Visible: 16 July – 23 August

Peak: 12-13 August

Draconids

Visible: 7-11 October

Peak: 8-9 October