Star gazers across Australia are in for a treat in the early hours of Saturday with the Eta Aquariid – one of the best meteor showers in the southern hemisphere – due to optimal viewing conditions.
Named after Eta Aquarii, the brightest star in the Aquarius constellation, the annual meteor show is famed for its connection to Halley’s comet.
Each year, Earth passes through the debris left in the path of the comet’s orbit. As debris enters the Earth’s orbit it disintegrates, leaving fiery streaks in the night sky.
“As Halley’s comet goes around the sun, bits of rock and ice fall off leaving a trail of debris around the solar system. As we go around the sun in our orbit, we cross paths with the trail, meaning we get this meteor shower in a regular occurrence around the same time each year,” Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker said.
The conditions are set to be optimal for viewing this year as the sky will be clear of clouds and interference from moonlight. However, if you miss the peak on 7 May, there is still an opportunity to view the meteor shower until 11 May.
“It’s a particularly good year for viewing them. Provided the cloud stays away, the early morning hours will be clear,” astronomer and Bathurst observatory founder Ray Pickard said.
“If the moon is bright, a lot of the fainter meteors will get washed out making them hard to see.
“Luckily this year, the moon will have set by the time the meteor shower is happening at its peak.”
The meteors will be visible once the Eta Aquariid radiant rises, this will happen between 1.30 and 2am on Saturday in most major cities.
“If you get up at around 2am and look towards a north-easterly direction you should see meteors from that time until sunrise,” Pickard said.
“I just encourage people to head outside, rug up and just enjoy the show.”
Patience is key for seeing a meteor shower.
“The biggest thing I always make sure to tell people is your eyes need at least 10 minutes to adjust.”
Tucker also recommends going to a dark area with an unobstructed view of the sky.
“You want to have a clear view all around. Going to like a nearby oval or park where you’re in the centre you have a huge view will give you the best chance.”
Spectators can expect to see up to 30 meteors per hour in regional areas with low light pollution.
“In the city, you’re more likely to see five to 10 per hour,” Pickard said.
“It’s worth getting up because these particular meteors are fairly fast moving and they have a tendency to leave a nice bright green smoke trail in the sky after they’ve burnt up.”
Spectators may even catch a glimpse of the planets while they’re out.
“At the same time this year, we also have a lineup of four planets in the morning sky, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter and Venus. They’re all in this nice beautiful line, and it’s near the same part of the sky that you might be looking toward for the meteors,” Tucker said.