The peak of the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower will be tonight on the night of May 5/6, 2011. However, despite the fact that the peak doesn’t occur until tomorrow night doesn’t men that the meteors aren’t already streaking through the sky right now. Additionally, the intervening time makes for a great opportunity to learn some observing tricks to maximize the chance of seeing meteors.
Traditionally, the Eta Aquarids are a minor meteor shower, where one can expect to see, according to most estimates, 10-15 meteors per hour. The best time to view is in the hours just before dawn as Aquarius is at its highest point in the sky at this time. In this case, ‘highest’ is a very relative term as Aquarius is very low in the Southeast. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out of light-polluted Cleveland and to the country if you can. Even in the suburbs, chances are that Aquarius (and most of the meteors) will be lost in a light dome.
Fortunately, the Moon is going to be a non-issue this year as it is near First Quarter, which means that it will have long since set by the time Aquarius rises. So, while the constellation itself is at a less than ideal placement, at least nature’s night light will be off this year for the shower.
However, even though the Eta Aquarids are not the best meteor shower, being a once a year event, why not head out to see if you can spot some meteors anyway?
So how about viewing tips?
First, plan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again. Next, grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don’t forget to dress warmly as it will be getting chilly in the Cleveland area during the night!
Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10×50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? Really ambitious? Why not try photographing the meteors?
Now for weather. Unfortunately, the the Cleveland weather forecastis looking pretty lousy for next few nights. The good news, May 5, the day before peak night, is looking to be the clearest day in the forecast, which may translate to a good night. For an even more up-to date, hour-by-hour forecast, check out the Cleveland Clear Sky Clockto see what the night will bring. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
Hit the ‘subscribe button for email updates whenever I write something new!
Why not check out my other columns?
National Space News Examiner
Cleveland Photography Examiner
For more astro news:
Featured sight for week of 4/17: the Pink Moon
See the ISS this week
The Lyrids are coming!
Easter dating method explained
Featured sight for week of 4/24: anything but clouds
‘Lake Superior’ of dry ice on Mars
Huge planetary get-together
Featured sight for week of 5/1: Eta Aquarids
The May Sky
Eta Aquarids are coming!
Want more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography and Astronomy