New York- The dark night of Wednesday to Thursday morning will be the perfect setting for one of the specials scattered throughout each year when sky watchers can see a meteor shower as a multitude of flares potentially erupt in the dark.
Meteor showers occur when our planet collides with the debris field left by icy comets or rocky asteroids orbiting the sun. These tiny particles burn up in the atmosphere, giving rise to dazzling trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any meteor shower occurs at roughly the same time each year.
The last rain is Eta Aquariids, sometimes also spelled Eta Aquarids. They have been active since April 15 and continue until May 27, but will peak Wednesday night into early Thursday morning.
The Eta Aquarids are one of two showers resulting from the debris field of Halley’s Comet, along with the Orionids in October. The debris will enter through Earth’s equator, meaning it will be visible in both hemispheres around the globe.
Moonlight will be at its lowest during peak hours, which should be between 3 a.m. and twilight on Thursday. But the shower should be very active for about a week after that date. In recent years, the Eta Aquarids have produced between 45 and 85 meteors per hour under dark sky conditions.
And there are more meteor showers to come.
How to see a meteor shower
Best practice is to get out in the field and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas can afford to just go out. But city dwellers also have options.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they are located,” said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are often best seen when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. To see as many meteors as possible, wait 30-45 minutes after arriving at your viewing location. This will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then sit back and enjoy a wide swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes, and times when the moon is thin or absent are best. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes are not necessary for meteor showers and will actually limit your view.