A modest meteor shower should be at its best before dawn tomorrow. But you need to be in the southern half of the country to have a good shot at seeing it — its “shooting stars” are seldom seen north of about Kansas City or Denver.
This is the Eta Aquarid shower. It happens when Earth passes through a trail of bits of rock and ice left by Halley’s Comet. The grains of comet dust plunge into the atmosphere at up to 150,000 miles an hour — a good bit faster than most meteors. That generates intense heat that produces a glowing trail high in the sky — a meteor.
The meteors can appear just about anywhere in the sky, but they all appear to “rain” into the atmosphere from the constellation Aquarius, the water bearer. Aquarius is quite low in the south, so the view gets better as you go farther south. It’s pretty good from the southern United States, with perhaps a dozen or so meteors per hour around the shower’s peak. The view is best from the southern hemisphere.
Aquarius doesn’t climb into view until the wee hours of the morning, so the Eta Aquarids are best in the couple of hours before dawn. The Moon will be a thin crescent in the pre-dawn sky tomorrow, not far from Aquarius. It’s so pale that it won’t do much to dampen the show.
And even though the shower peaks early tomorrow, it’ll still rain a few meteors into the sky for a few days more, providing more chances to see a fiery display from a watery constellation.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013