The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is tonight, and it’s going to be a spectacular show. Here’s how, when, and where to watch the Eta Aquarids—and why they’ve been so unjustly ignored for so long.
The Eta Aquarids are a late spring meteor shower made up of the icy debris of Halley’s Comet. The comet is actually responsible for two separate meteor showers a year—this one and the Orionids, which occurs in October.
The Orionids typically overshadow the Eta Aquarids, but that shouldn’t be seen as a judgement on the latter’s quality. All it means is that people have been sleeping on a really excellent meteor shower for no good reason. Tonight is your chance to rectify that.
It’s true that the Eta Aquarids isn’t the most prolific of showers—NASA estimates that this time around we should see an average of 10-30 meteoroids per hour. But what it lacks in number of meteoroids, it more than makes up for in terms of how spectacular each is likely to be.
At 148,000 mph, the meteoroids are some of the fastest you’ll see all year. That means that their trails are long, sweeping across the expanse of the sky, and occasionally lingering for minutes.
These long trails significantly increase your chances of seeing meteors. It also means you’re more likely to see some of the stranger meteor shower effects, like exploding fireballs and meteor smoke trails. In fact, given the speed of the meteoroids, you could see these phenomena multiple times during the shower.
The Eta Aquarids’ season, the showiness of its individual meteors, and its wide scope make it one of the easiest meteor showers to view. There are still things you should keep in mind, though, for maximum viewing enjoyment.
Even with the warmer weather, being outside at night means you’re going to want a sweater and possibly even a blanket. A sky map (or an equivalent app), a flask, your choice of snacks, and another blanket to spread on the ground are also going to be useful.
The peak of the shower is tonight, but the couple of days surrounding the peak are often almost as good for viewing. Still, the best time to try is tonight, and the pre-dawn hours of tomorrow morning.
The point from whence the meteors seem to stream (called the radiant) is just above the constellation Aquarius and a lot of guides will recommend you start by looking there. But this is really about spotting those long Eta Aquarids trails, so I’m going to recommend you skip focusing on the radiant, even if you start out there, and instead find a good place to lay out where you can see whole the sky.
The Lyrids shower two weeks ago was almost entirely washed out by the bright light of the full moon. That won’t be a problem tonight; the moon should be barely visible. If you’re in a city, drive as far from the lights as you can for the best viewing.
Of course, in case of rain, clouds, or if you’re just lazy, there’s always Slooh’s reliably excellent livestream, which will begin broadcasting the view from the Canary Islands at 8pm (EST) tonight. But I recommend you skip the screen for your own patch of sky. Really, nothing else compares to it.