Wednesday night into Thursday morning will be one of the special dates scattered throughout each year when skywatchers can catch a meteor shower as a multitude of flares potentially burst in the darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year.
The latest shower is the Eta Aquariids, sometimes also spelled Eta Aquarids. They have been active since April 15 and go to May 27, but they will peak May 4 to 5, or Wednesday night into early Thursday morning.
The Eta Aquariids are one of two showers resulting from the debris field of Halley’s comet, along with the Orionids in October. Debris will enter over Earth’s Equator, meaning it will be visible in both hemispheres all over the world.
Moonlight will be minimal during peak times, which should be between 3 a.m. and twilight on May 5. But the shower should be highly active for roughly a week before and after that date. In past years, the Eta Aquariids have produced between 45 to 85 meteors per hour in dark sky conditions.
And there are more meteor showers to come. Visit The Times’s list of major showers expected in 2022, or sync our curated collection of major space and astronomy events with your personal digital calendar.
How to see a shower
The best practice is to head out to the countryside and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas may have the luxury of just stepping outside. But city-dwellers have options, too.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they have their location,” said Robert Lunsford, the secretary-general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. In order to see as many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after you get to your viewing location. That will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lie back and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Mr. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes aren’t necessary for meteor showers, and in fact will limit your view.