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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peaks this Friday

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks this Friday night, May 6, after midnight local time. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from where their radiant appears to originate. The radiant is the point in the sky from which all of the meteors would appear to come if you drew a line back from their path to the point where the lines converge in the sky. It is not necessary to be looking at the radiant to see the meteors. They can apear anywhere in the sky. But when the radiant is high in the sky, the most meteors can be seen. At its peak, this meteor shower should show 10-60 meteors per hour, however it is best seen by observers at low latitudes, preferably in the Southern Hemisphere. Observers at 40 degrees North and higher will probably see no meteors from this shower at all. The Israeli Negev is at about 30 degrees North latitude, not ideal, but some meteors from this shower may still be visible early Saturday morning before sun rise. Go outside where you have as clear a horizon as possible and a dark sky, and just start watching. Meteor showers are best observed with the naked eye, so no optical equipment is necessary.

A meteor shower is the result of the earth encountering the debris of a comet as it sweeps out its orbit around the sun. The Eta Aquarids result from debris left behind by the famous Comet Halley. A meteor is most often just a tiny particle of dust, about the size of a grain of sand, that burns up from friction as it enters the earth's atmosphere. Brighter meteors result from larger particles. If large enough, they can withstand the friction of entry into the earth's atmosphere and strike the ground. They are then called meteorites and are highly prized by scientists and collectors alike. They are pieces of the original matter that formed our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Good luck if you go out watching on Friday night/Saturday morning.

The constellation Aquarius with the star "Eta" labelled. This is the radiant of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. You do not have to be looking at the radiant to see shower members. It's best to just lie down and watch the zenith (point over head) after midnight. However, the Eta Aquarids are best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

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