There’s a beautiful meteor shower lighting up the sky this May

The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak between May 4 and May 6. Here’s how you can witness this gorgeous display from the night sky. 

While April saw the first meteor shower of the year plus the brilliant super pink moon, the skies aren’t done showing off yet. The next celestial spectacle to watch out for is the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which will light up the night sky this May. 

What is the Eta Aquarid meteor shower?

Every year, the Earth passes through the trail of debris from the well-known Halley’s Comet, which takes 76 years to orbit the sun.  As the bits of ice and rock enter the atmosphere, they burn up as meteors. The Eta Aquarid meteors appear to originate from the area near the Eta Aquarii star in the constellation Aquarius, which is how the event got its name. The shooting stars are among the fastest and travel across the sky at 148,000 mph (66 km/s). If you happen to blink and miss them, you’ll still be able to spot a glowing trail, which lasts from several seconds to a few minutes.

How do I watch the Eta Aquarid meteor shower?

Eta Aquarid meteor shower
The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak in early May. (Photo: Unsplash) (Image for representational purposes only.)

The Eta Aquarid meteors can be seen from mid-April to the end of May. While the Southern hemisphere witnesses up to 50 meteors an hour, the frequency of meteors in the Northern hemisphere is about 10 per hour. So, the ideal game plan is to catch the spectacle at its peak. This year, the greatest number of Eta Aquariid meteors are expected to fall between May 4 and May 6. To avoid interference from the waning moon, the best time to watch the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is during pre-dawn hours on May 5, between 2am and 4am.  

Stargazing tips

If you’re a newbie stargazer, here are ways you can make the most of this event. 

  • It’s recommended that you find a spot away from the light pollution of the city. If that’s not possible, head somewhere higher up like a terrace where you’ll have an unobstructed view of the night sky. 
  • Cover your flashlight with red cellophane paper. This way the light will be bright enough to help you find your way in the dark while allowing your eyes to adjust to the darkness.
  • It helps to be able to identify a few anchor planets and constellations, so look up a map of the night sky before you head out. Google Sky Map contains data gathered from various sources, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA’s Chandra satellite. Stargazing apps such as Stellarium and Starwalk are also useful. Stellarium allows you to see the position of the planets based on your location, and has a handy red night mode to keep your phone’s light from interfering with your eyesight. With Starwalk, you can identify what is at a particular location in the night sky in real time. 
  • You don’t need to invest in expensive equipment, not even a telescope. A regular pair of binoculars is good enough to observe the night sky in greater detail.