2012 eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on May 5, 2012. The shower
can be seen from both hemispheres, but the southern hemisphere
is favored, receiving twice as many meteors as the north. Taking
moonlight into account, forecasters estimate a maximum of 30+
visible meteors per hour. The best time to look, no matter where
you live, is during the hours just before local sunrise.
Aquarids are flakes of dust from Halley's Comet, which last visited
Earth in 1986. Although the comet is now far
away, beyond the orbit of Uranus, it left behind a stream
of dust. Earth passes through the stream twice a year in May and
October. In May we have the eta Aquarid meteor shower, in October
the Orionids. Both are caused by Halley's Comet.
is named after a 4th-magnitude star in the constellation Aquarius.
The star has nothing to do with the meteor shower except that,
coincidentally, meteors appear to emerge from a point nearby.
Eta Aquarii is 156 light years from Earth and 44 times more luminous
than the Sun.
Aquarius does not rise very far above the horizon in the northern
hemisphere, and that's why northerners see relatively few meteors.
But the ones they do see could be spectacular Earthgrazers. (continued
maps: Northern Hemisphere
| Southern Hemisphere
are meteors that skim horizontally through the upper atmosphere.
They are slow and dramatic, streaking far across the sky. The
best time to look for Earthgrazers is between 2:00 to 2:30 a.m.
local time when Aquarius is just peeking above the horizon.
meteor watchers suggest the following viewing strategy: Dress
warmly. Bring a reclining chair, or spread a thick blanket over
a flat spot of ground. Lie down and look up somewhat toward the
east. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, although their
trails will point back toward Aquarius.
- Eta Aquarid
meteoroids hit Earth's atmosphere traveling 66 km/s.
eta Aquarid meteors are as bright as a 3rd magnitude star.