Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower to Peak Monday Night, Tuesday Morning
The annual Eta Aquarids meteor shower is expected to peak tonight and early Cinco de Mayo morning, and will light up the skies of Central Texas along with a moon expected to be 91% full. That is, if clouds or light pollution don't get in the way.
Our neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere will see more frequent shooting stars, but here in Texas we should be treated to at least 10-30 per hour.
According to Joe Rao with Space.com, your best chance to spot meteors will come just before dawn. Whether you stay up late or get up early, now seems like a perfect time to sit on the back porch or stare out the window with the family and take in the beauty of the cosmic ballet. It's a reminder that we're part of that big dance, and while things seem grim right now, we'll get through it and our world will still be here.
In fact, Rao reports, the Eta Aquarids have been delighting skygazers since they were official discovered in 1870. Lieutenant Colonel G.L. Tupman is credited with the discovery after he spotted 15 meteors in the morning of April 30, 1870, and 13 more a few mornings later. The meteor shower was named Eta Aquarids because Tupman believed the shooting stars were emanating from the vicinity of Aquarius.
The meteors we'll see tonight and tomorrow morning are actually debris from Halley's comet. According to NASA, these meteors are created when 1P/Halley returns to the inner solar system and sheds ice and rock into space. The debris becomes part of the Et Aquarids in May and the Orionids in October depending on when they collide with Earth's atmosphere and burn up for all of us to watch and enjoy.
As for Halley itself, it's not expected to be visible to we casual observers again until 2061. I hope to see you all looking to the skies when that happens. (The comet last passed within casual view in 1986 - the year I was born. It'd be neat to see it in my old age knowing that.)
Bruce McClure at EarthSky has a handy guide for the best way to view the spectacle.
Whatever you do, don't forget to make a wish.