Eta Aquarids: how to see shooting stars this Bank Holiday weekend

Tuesday, 1st May 2018, 2:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st May 2018, 3:53 pm

Look to the heavens this Bank Holiday weekend, and you might just catch a glimpse of a 'shooting star'.

A meteor shower associated with the elusive Halley's Comet rolls into the night's sky this month, producing a cosmic show for anyone looking towards the stars.

What are the Eta Aquarids?

The Eta Aquarids are associated with Halley's Comet, which famously only comes to Earth's region of the solar system once every 74 -79 years, and won't be visible from our planet again until 2061.

The meteors that make up the Eta Aquarids shower do originate from the scarcely sighted comet, however the debris broke away from it hundreds of years ago.

The comet's current orbit does not pass close enough to Earth to be a source of meteoric activity.

How to see them

The meteor shower has been going on above our heads for a couple of weeks, and runs roughly from April 21 - May 28.

However, it is this Bank Holiday Weekend when budding astronomers are likely to get the best show, as the shower peaks on the night of May 6 into May 7.

The Eta Aquarids should be visible with the naked eye, though weather makes an impact, and with British skies often clouded over, spotting the meteors might be easier said than done.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Living in an area with minimal light pollution will increase your chances of spotting a meteor, and those living in built up areas are advised to travel to less populated spaces if they really want to see the shower.

Wrapping up in warm clothes is recommended, and you should allow up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the night sky.

When to see them

The best time to catch the meteors is in the hours just before dawn, so those rising early to see the spectacle can be thankful of the extra day off afforded by the Bank Holiday.

The Eta Aquarids get their name because they appear to originate from the constellation Aquarius, found in the southern sky.

Looking in that direction might give you a better chance at spotting a meteor, but they can appear from anywhere in the sky.

How ‘spectacular’ will it be?

The Eta Aquarids are not one of the year's most spectacular meteor showers, but they'll still offer up plenty of 'shooting stars' for those willing to put the time in.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

They usually peak at around 55 meteors per hours - that's just under one a minute - and those getting up early to see them will notice the rate increase steadily as the sun comes up.

Any 'shooting stars' you do see will be streaking through the atmosphere at approximately 66 kilometers a second - or 147,638 miles per hour.

Main image: Shutterstock