The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is nearly here, with the night of peak activity expected to be on May 5, 2013. The meteor shower has in fact already begun, the beginning of it is currently coinciding with the tail end of the Lyrid meteor shower.
The Eta Aquarids (Eta Aquariids) can be quite prolific, especially when seen from the Southern Hemisphere, reaching rates of up to 40-85 meteors an hour. Indeed they are regularly one of the best meteor showers of the year for those in the Southern Hemisphere. And this year the peak of activity will be occurring simultaneously with a new moon, so the night will be nice and dark, making the meteors especially visible. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the closer you are to the equator the better but it should still be a good show even if you are a good bit farther north than that.
So for those interested, make sure to set aside time in the early morning hours of Sunday May 5th, ideally in the 4-5 hour period before dawn. The meteors will appear to be radiating out of the constellation of Aquarius, and specifically its brightest star Eta Aquarii, in the southeast portion of the sky. In general the higher that the radiant (where the meteors appear to be coming from) is in the sky, the more meteors that you will see, and it will be highest in the hours just before dawn. So what you’re looking for is the right balance of a radiant high in the sky and the darkest hours of the night.
And for those looking for more information on all of the other great meteor showers expected this year, see: Meteor Showers 2013 Dates and Times, Geminids, Leonids, Perseids, Orionids, Draconids, Taurids, Ursids, Etc
As always, in order to enjoy the meteor shower there are a couple of things to keep in mind. You need a dark sky, preferably far away from city lights. You’ll need time for your eyes to fully adjust to to dark, which can take 10 or more minutes, and this also means that all of your brightly-lit electronic devices should be turned off or dimmed. And perhaps most importantly, you need to make sure that you get comfortable; blankets, warm clothes, coffee, hot chocolate, those all go a long way towards making the experience more enjoyable.
As an interesting note, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is the result of the Earth passing through the debris trail that was left in space by Halley’s Comet. Every year the Earth passes through the dust, pebbles, and rocks, that were left behind by the famous comet, and as these enter the atmosphere they create the “meteors” that we see.