And tonight isn’t just any meteor shower, it is actually created by Halley’s Comet which was last seen in 1986 and won’t be seen again until 2061. As Halley travels by the sun, a trail of debris, or what scientists refer to as “cosmic litter,” is left behind for our viewing pleasure. Every year, around this same time Earth intersects this trail of comet ice chunks and we experience a meteor shower known as Eta Aquarid for its position among the constellations, emerging from Aquarius.
Catching a meteor shower can be extremely difficult depending on time, location and visibility. And even when the phenomenon can be seen, the meteors might not be radiant enough to outshine the moon or be visible through intense cloud cover. Luckily for us, the moon is currently in waxing crescent, making the shower visible early Tuesday morning, just before dawn. The southern US is said to have the best visibility in the northern hemisphere this year! Though the meteor shower is more visible south of the equator, with almost 60 meteors per hour, in the northern hemisphere we will still be able to see at least 30 meteors per hour.
In order to take full advantage of this event, here are some tips for viewing the “shooting stars:”
- The highest hourly rate of meteoroids will be early May 6, in the few hours before dawn, which will occur at 5:35 a.m. for Phoenix.
- A city like Phoenix is very bright, and gives off a city glow even at night so it is recommended to drive slightly outside the city to a darker location to better see the shower.
- Make sure the area you are in doesn’t have a lot of cloud cover either, or you won’t be able to see much of the shower.
- Rather than look straight up at the sky, you should look only half way up the sky, facing east. This way, you won’t be looking at the meteoroids head on, but at an angle and will be able to see the radiant trail more easily.
If the weather takes a turn for the worst, you can watch the celestial display live online at Space.com where Slooh astronomer Bob Berman will be commenting all night and featuring live shower views from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
If you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed at two in the morning to catch this natural spectacle, you can always catch the webcasts and images from around the world starting Tuesday morning.