See the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

The Eta Aquarids might be the best meteor shower that you've never heard of. This shower is caused by flecks of dust released from the nucleus of Halley's Comet. It stays near full strength for five days — longer than any comparably intense shower — and its meteors are bright and plentiful.

So why isn't it better known?

Where to spot Eta Aquariid meteors
Here's the Eta Aquarid's radiant as seen from latitude 30° north (Houston, Cairo, Delhi, Shanghai) 90 minutes before sunrise. Farther north, the radiant is even lower when the sky starts to get light. But Eta Aquarids are occasionally seen as far north as the Mid-Atlantic States.
S&T Illustration
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, where this is arguably the year's best meteor shower, you've very likely heard of it. But relatively few Eta Aquarids are visible from mid-northern latitudes, where the lion's share of amateur astronomers live. Still, this shower puts on quite a respectable show in the southernmost tier of the United States. And because the meteors are so bright, they're occasionally seen much farther north than that during morning twilight — and even broad daylight.

Conditions are ideal for the Eta Aquarids this year, because the Moon is absent from the sky during the predawn hours. The shower is forecast to peak on the morning of Friday, May 6th, with good activity from the 4th through the 8th.

As the name Eta Aquarids suggests, all of this shower's meteors appear to radiate from a spot near the northeastern corner of the constellation Aquarius. The higher a shower's radiant is in the sky, the more meteors you can see, and you won't see any meteors at all when the radiant is significantly below the horizon.

In the case of the Eta Aquarids, the radiant doesn't rise until long after midnight, and it reaches its highest in the sky well after sunrise. So the best time to watch for meteors is anywhere from one to two hours before sunrise. Earlier than that, the radiant is too low — any later, the sky is too bright.

See our Meteor Observing guide for more information.

9 thoughts on “See the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

  1. Tony Flanders

    Random43 asks if the Eta Lyrids are visible in Seattle. I’m hesitant to answer yes or no, because it’s certainly theoretically possible to see an Eta Lyrid that far north. However, the probability is very low.

    Here’s one way of looking at it. I live in Boston, 5 degrees (300 miles) south of Seattle, which roughly doubles my chances. Even so, I’m not about to roll out of bed at such a hideous hour in the morning just on the off-chance that I’ll see one. But if I lived yet another 5 degrees south, around Richmond, Virginia, or San Francisco, I’d seriously consider getting up to watch the Eta Lyrids.

  2. Julie

    I have a cabin reserved at Cayo Costa State Park (FL) just for this meteor shower; no electricity on the island and the only access is by boat, so I’m hoping for clear, dark skies!

  3. Antonio Mario

    Akshay,

    The more South you are, in the Northern Hemisphere, the better you are, as the post says. The radiant is close to the Celestial Equator. You’ll be fine.

    Note that, since the event will be spread throughout several days and, hence, will NOT be time critical, your longitude will not matter.

    Enjoy.

  4. Tony Flanders

    Ashkay Verma asked about the fact that this story was originally posted in 2008 — though updated in a number of details to be accurate for 2011. The 3-year gap is no accident. Meteor showers tend to repeat pretty faithfully every year; what varies is the Moon phase.37 lunar cycles (29.5 days apiece) are almost equal to 3 years at 365 days apiece, so the lunar phase on any given date is more or less the same as it was 3 years earlier.

  5. Atomtori

    Good day Mr. Flanders! Thank you for the tips. I am beginning to educate myself more about meteor showers as I love looking at the sky and marvel at its beauty. I would just like to ask if I have a good chance of seeing this event in the Philippines. I have learned about the Eta Aquarids from a friend when I shared my experience of seeing a fireball 2 nights ago. It was the coolest surprise ever. Looking forward to your answer^^. Thank you very much!

  6. Azael Barrera

    I am happy to comment to Mr Flanders and readers that I was able to see a few meteors this morning May 7th at between 4am and 4:30am from Panama, in Central America. Two faint ones and one very bright but out of the field of view of my camera. Effectively, it was directed away from Eta Aquarids, from the tip of the water jug. We waited until 4am when Aquarius is way out of the horizon, and stayed until the moon came out at about 4:30am. The bright meteor was directed away from Eta in a direction between Capricornius and Piscis Austrinus. Just that bright one made all worthwhile considering that in Panama we had strong cloud cover last night (May 5th to 6th) when the shower was at peak. Amazing to see a piece of Halley’s comet flying by again; I saw Halley’s in Panama too in 1986 just before I went to do my doctoral studies in physics. Good guide, Mr Flanders, we will keep watching for your articles.

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