Eta Aquarids meteor shower on morning of May 5, 2020 in southeast. (Glenn LeDrew)

Exploring the Night Sky: Eta Aquariid meteor shower

While it’s a better meteor shower for Southern Hemisphere observers, the Eta Aquariids might reward Northern Hemisphere early risers with its fast-moving meteors as May begins.

Date: May 5, 2020
Type: Meteor Shower
Time: 1-2 Hours Before Dawn
View: Naked Eye

Comet Halley is 41 years from making its next visit to the inner Solar System. In early May, however, we will see tiny bits of debris left by this famous visitor as they blaze through the upper atmosphere, during the Eta Aquariid meteor shower.

At its peak, this event features just 10-15 meteors per hour for northern observers. But the Eta Aquariids are often fast-moving, and noted for leaving lingering trails of ionized gas in their wake. Occasionally, an earthgrazer appears, meaning a meteor that skims the atmosphere and leaves a persistent trail low over the horizon.

Eta Aquariids meteor shower on morning of May 5, 2020 in southeast. (Glenn LeDrew)

The radiant of the shower lies just south of the Aquarius’ Water Jar asterism — the informal grouping of stars considered the jar of the “Water Bearer.” From Canada, the radiant rises in the east not long before dawn during the shower peak of May 5, so this is the best time to look for meteors. This year, a thick Gibbous Moon brightens the sky for much of the night, but the Eta Aquariids are visible for a few days before the peak when the Moon is less of a factor.

Even if the Moon obscures the faintest Eta Aquariids this year, early May is a great time to enjoy a preview of the summer stars before the insects emerge, and to glimpse the thickest part of the Milky Way rising in the southeast before dawn.

For more upcoming night sky events from Exploring the Night Sky with Brian Ventrudo, check out the latest edition of SkyNews.