One of the best meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere is about to peak. Here's how to spot it (2024)

If you're looking for an excuse to get out of the house this weekend, the Eta Aquariid meteor shower is back.

The meteor shower has the potential to dazzle early birds with around 15 to 20 meteors an hour at its peak depending on where you live in Australia.

The Eta Aquariid shower is visible during May every year as the Earth moves through the dust and gas left by Halley's Comet.

It's one of the best meteor showers for the Southern Hemisphere, and the stunning display is ramping up to peak on Monday — but you'll have to get up early to see them.

"Get up early in the morning, watch them over your morning coffee," Jonti Horner, an astronomer at the University of Southern Queensland says.

"It's one of the ones that suits the early birds rather than the night owls."

How to see it

The Eta Aquariids will peak on the morning of May 6, but astronomers suggest that— weather permitting— there should be plenty of meteors each morning from May 5 through to May 8.

This year, the shower corresponds to a new moon, so more meteors per hour will be visible in the darker sky.

"Although the peak is technically on the morning of May 6, there are better rates on May 7 when the tiny slice of the Moon is out of the way," says amateur astronomer Ian Musgrave.

"The rates this year are much better than last year when the nearly full moon was camped near the radiant."

Dr Musgrave's predictions for the number of meteors per hour for each capital city is below.

The best time to see them is when they're high in the sky, from 3:00 am local time until dawn.Before 2:00 am the meteor shower will be below the horizon and blocked to viewers in the Southern Hemisphere.

"People in the suburbs should see a meteor around once every six minutes, and in the country about once every three to four minutes," Dr Musgrave says.

"Of course they don't turn up like clockwork."

To see the meteors, find somewhere dark, look towards the east, andget comfortable. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, there will be planets lining up to show stargazers the way.

One of the best meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere is about to peak. Here's how to spot it (1)

"You've got a vertical line of planets and the Moon to guide your vision," Professor Horner says.

"There's Mercury nearest the horizon, then the thin crescent moon, then Mars and Saturn, all lined up coming from the horizon towards where this radiant point is."

The "radiant point" — the spot in the sky where meteors will appear to come from— is Eta Aquarii, a star in the constellation Aquarius.

What causes the Eta Aquariids

One of the best meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere is about to peak. Here's how to spot it (2)

Meteors occur when small bits of dust and debris enter Earth's atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds.

"Something the size of a grain of rice would give you a bright fireball in the Eta Aquariids that could almost be as bright as Venus," Professor Horner says.

Meteors don't just happen during a shower, and on a regular night in a dark sky you might get lucky enough to see one or two a night. But a meteor shower is more exciting for astronomers because there's a higher frequency of meteors, they are always at the same time, and always look like they are all coming from the same area of the sky.

The Eta Aquariids is one of two meteor showers caused by Halley's comet.

While Halley's reached its furthest point away from the Sun at the end of last year, it's not completely gone. Dust and gas thrown off by the cometwhile it's flying through space remain behind,creating a large ring of debris in itswake.

Both the Eta Aquariids and theOrionids are caused by Earth flying through this ring of leftovers.

One of the best meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere is about to peak. Here's how to spot it (3)

The reason that they're named after Orion and Eta Aquariiis because that's where it looks like the meteors are coming from. These constellations actually have nothing to do with the meteor showers— but they do provide a way to track where they're going to appear in our skies.

"Every year, we cross that debris at the same time and Aquarius is in the same position in the sky at the same time, and that's why it always looks like it's coming from there," CSIRO radio astronomer Vanessa Moss says.

"It's a huge cloud of dust, particles, and bits of rock that we're passing through, so it's always going to be a little bit different each time."

According to Professor Horner, because of the way the orbit has changed over time, this year we're passing through the trail left from over 1,500 years ago.

"The comet last intersected perfectly with Earth around 500 AD. That means that dust that was laid down by the comet around 500 AD would probably still be able to interact with the Earth now," he says.

"The dust that it shed in 1986 probably won't interact with the Earth until it's really spread out, because at the minute the comet [isn't intersecting perfectly] with Earth."

While Halley's comet still has another 38 years before it's next rendezvous with Earth, it's nice to know it'll be showering us in meteors while we wait to see it again.

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One of the best meteor showers in the Southern Hemisphere is about to peak. Here's how to spot it (2024)


What is the best time to see a meteor shower tonight? ›

In nearly all showers, the radiant is highest just before dawn, but any time between midnight and dawn gives you a view of most meteors head-on for a more frequent display. Starting around midnight, your location on the globe spins around to the forward-facing half of Earth (in relation to the direction of the orbit).

Why do meteor showers peak in early morning? ›

That's because during the early-morning hours, observers are standing on the leading hemisphere of Earth as it travels through space, so meteoroids (the pieces of dust that burn up in our atmosphere to create meteors, the trails of light we see) are colliding directly with the atmosphere overhead.

How many meteors can you see each hour in the night sky during the peak? ›

The most popular meteor shower of the year, Perseids, will peak in August. During that shower, sky watchers can see 50 to 75 meteors per hour at peak. The meteors are very colorful and leave persistent trains, and relatively little moonlight will make a good show.

Where is the best place to see the Lyrid meteor shower? ›

The Lyrid meteor shower, pictured, is best viewed from the northern hemisphere because the point from which its meteors appear to come, known as the radiant, is only visible from there. But southern hemisphere stargazers might get lucky too, as meteors can streak across the sky in any direction.

What is the peak time to watch meteor shower? ›

So the best time to watch for Perseids will be starting around midnight until dawn. This shower rises to a peak gradually, then falls off rapidly. And Perseid meteors tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into the wee hours before dawn. The shower is often best just before dawn.

Can you see meteor shower at 10pm? ›

The Perseids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the pre-dawn hours, though at times it is possible to view meteors from this shower as early as 10 p.m.

How long does a meteor shower last? ›

The duration of peak activity can vary widely between showers. Some meteor showers (such as the Quadrantids) have very sharp maximums, displaying their best rates for only a few hours each year. Other major showers (such as the Taurids) have a broader maximum, which can span across a few nights.

How long does a meteor last? ›

The general rule-of-thumb is that natural meteor reentries happen quickly and typically last less than a few seconds while human-made reentries happen slowly, and typically can last 20 – 90 seconds or more.

What triggers a meteor shower? ›

1. A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet or asteroid. 2. Meteors are bits of rocks and ice ejected from comets as they move in their orbits about the sun.

Are meteor showers loud? ›

Most of the meteors you see are much too small for the boom to be loud enough to hear from how far away you are. However, larger meteorites do make a sonic boom until they are slowed to slower than the speed of sound by the atmosphere. By the time they get to the ground, they are usually too slow to make a boom.

How rare is it to see a meteor burn up? ›

Most (between 90 and 95 percent) of these meteors completely burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in a bright streak that can be seen across the night sky, Moorhead said.

How rare is it to see a meteor? ›

How Rare are Meteors? On any given night, an observer away from city light pollution will see around six meteors every hour, especially after 2:00 AM. There are more in the predawn hours because that's when your part of Earth is facing forward in space, as Earth orbits the Sun at 18.5 miles per second.

What is the best meteor shower in 2024? ›

Meteor Showers in 2024
Major Meteor Showers in 2024
PerseidsPerseus (NE)Aug. 12
Orionids*Orion (SE)Oct. 21, 22
TauridsTaurus (overhead)Oct. - Nov.
Leonids*Leo (E)Nov. 18
7 more rows

What date is the next meteor shower? ›

2024 Major Meteor Showers (Class I)
ShowerActivity PeriodMaximum
Southern delta Aquarids (SDA)Jul 18-Aug 21Jul 30
Perseids (PER)Jul 14-Sep 01Aug 12
Orionids (ORI)Sep 26-Nov 22Oct 20
6 more rows

Where is the Taurid meteor shower? ›

From Earth's perspective, the Taurid meteor shower appears to come approximately from the direction of the Taurus constellation. To find Taurus, look for the constellation Orion and then peer to the northeast to find the red star Aldebaran, the star in the bull's eye.

Which direction do I look to see the meteor shower tonight? ›

The best time to look for meteors is in the pre-dawn hours. The peak viewing days are typically your best shot to see the sky speckled with bright meteors. To see the meteors, look up and to the north.

What time of night should I watch the Perseid meteor shower? ›

The best time to see the Perseids is between 12:00 midnight and 5:30am. It is always ideal to try to spot meteors when the Moon is below the horizon or when it is in its crescent phase, otherwise it acts as natural light pollution and prevents the fainter meteors from being visible.

Where can I watch the meteor shower in Salt Lake? ›

Antelope Island State Park

Antelope Island beckons you to stargaze from the salty remnants of an ancient lake. The closest certified park to Salt Lake City, Antelope Island offers fantastic sunset viewing from Buffalo Point and Frary Peak.

When can you spot a meteor in the night sky? ›

The visibility of meteor showers depends on a variety of factors, which include: peak time, position of the radiant—the point in the sky where the shower seems to originate, moonrise and sunset times, and the Moon phase.

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