Star-gazing New Zealanders are set for a treat this weekend, with our country in flawless position to view a major meteor shower.
The showers are the most active in the southern hemisphere, with some 20 to 40 meteors shooting across the sky per hour, while those in the mid-northern latitudes should be able to see about 10 or so meteors per hour. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower can be seen each year as the Earth travels through the debris left behind by the Halley's comet. Although observable in the night sky, people from around the world will see different views of the meteor shower.
What are the Eta Aquarids?
A report said the meteor shower appears to flow from the constellation Aquarius and a group of stars called the Water Jar.
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For the diehards out there, 4am Saturday morning local time is your absolute best bet for viewing of the shower, after the Moon has set. Those living in the southern hemisphere should look north. Folks living along the Gulf Coast of the United States and as far south as Miami will have the best view of this nighttime event. In fact, we now know that Halley also gives rise to another noteworthy meteor shower in late October known as the Orionids.
Without this moonlight, skywatchers will have a better chance of spotting the shooting stars.
The cool part is that while the Eta Aquarid meteor shower doesn't produce as many meteors as the Perseid or Geminid showers, these ones are particularly bright and easy to spot. Under the most favorable conditions, a dozen or more meteors per hour can be seen from the Eta Aquarid swarm. Such meteors produce unusually long paths and more often than not appear rather low to the horizon. But any time from 1am onwards should net you a good amount of shooting stars.
The Aquariids can shine from late April through mid-May, but this year they will peak the night of May 5, especially just before dawn on May 6.