The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower is now underway, peaking May 6 when Earth travels through meteorites left by Halley's Comey.

By Jamie Carter
May 05, 2018
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An Eta Aquarid meteor exploding over pine trees on the Coconino Rim along the Arizona Trail. Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
Credit: Mike Cavaroc/Alamy

Now raining down on Earth are shooting stars from the Eta Aquarid meteor shower 2018.

Caused by debris from the ancient Halley's Comet, and best viewed in the early hours of this Sunday, May 6, 2018, the Eta Aquarids display is expected to provide a shooting star every two minutes or so.

Where to Look for Eta Aquarids

For the Eta Aquarids meteor shower 2018, where to look in the sky is all about its radiant. All that means is exactly where in the night sky the meteor shower appears to come from. In this case, it's named after the zodiac constellation of Aquarius, the Y-shaped “Water Bearer” (and more specifically, after Eta Aquarii, that constellation's second brightest star).

It will be viewable due south from the U.S. and the U.K., so an observation location that has a clear view to the southern horizon will be ideal. However, don't obsess over that too much since shooting stars can occur anywhere in the sky. Just look generally south.

To see the Eta Aquarids meteor shower from Australia or elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, look east.

When the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower Will Peak

It's happening already. Starting on April 19 and going on until May 28 each year, the Eta Aquarids peak is on the evening of May 5 and into May 6. It will be best viewed just after midnight.

Although the official rate of this meteor shower is 60 meteors per hour, that's normally only seen in the southern hemisphere. Viewers in the northern hemisphere will see about half that number. However, it's impossible to tell for sure until the peak is underway, and it's not unheard of to see many more.

What time is the meteor shower tonight?

Although the Eta Aquarids meteor shower 2018 peaks on May 5-6, after midnight is always the best time to be outside looking for shooting stars. That goes double this year as the Eta Aquarids occurs only a week after a Full Moon, so it rises about 65% illuminated just before 01:30 a.m. EST on May 6.

Aim to look for shooting stars between midnight and 01:30 a.m. EST, because although some of the shooting stars will be below the eastern horizon, so will a bright moon, which will later make them hard to see.

What locations are best for the Eta Aquarids 2018?

Stand anywhere with a dark, clear sky and you will have a good chance of spotting an Eta Aquarid shooting star. Since the Eta Aquarids 2018 are likely to be a relatively faint display this year because of lingering moonlight, it's probably best not to travel too far. However, it will be observers under dark skies that will see the brightest shooting stars. Since light pollution can considerably dull the effect of any meteor shower, DarkSiteFinder.com and the International Dark Sky Association’s Find a Dark Sky Place tool should be useful.

What causes the Eta Aquarids?

Halley's Comet was last seen in our solar system in 1986, and is now out in the farthest reaches of the solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune and about as far away as it ever gets. It's next due to enter the inner solar system — and will be observable from Earth — in July 2061. Why does a comet cause shooting stars? When it gets closest to the Sun, it sheds a vast amount of ice, dust and gas particles, which heat up and glow as shooting stars when Earth's atmosphere busts into it. That happens twice per year, causing two meteor showers. The other is the Orionids, which occurs about six months later on the other side of the solar system. In 2018, the Orionids will peak on October 21-22.

When can you see the Delta Aquarid meteor shower?

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is related to the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The Delta Aquarids appear in an identical part of the night sky, and will peak in 2018 in the early hours of July 29, but it’s a minor display.

The next major display of shooting stars will be the Perseid meteor shower. One of the most famous and most prolific of the year, it's worth making a plan as soon as possible to secure a campsite or rural cabin under as dark as sky as you can find. Just after midnight through until dawn on the morning of August 13, 2018 will be the best time to observe about 60 to 100 bright and colorful shooting stars.

Whatever your plans for the Eta Aquarids, sky-gazing requires two things: darkness and patience. Give it time, resist the temptation to look at your phone (which will both distract you and ruin your night vision), grab a lawn chair, and wait for shooting stars.