Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

“Eeeh! I love a good headline, me! But this might be a tad disingenuous to say the least, and there’s certainly no need to panic. Nevertheless, there are some truths within it.

Tonight will indeed coincide with peak of the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, and although this particular meteor shower is best viewed in the southern hemisphere, for those who are determined to stay up late (or wake up early perhaps), it will appear low in the eastern sky in the early pre-dawn hours of tomorrow morning (6 May 2020).

One other factor to bear in mind, is that this meteor shower will also clash with a ‘full waxing gibbous’ moon (gibbous meaning hump-backed), and observing conditions will be far from ideal with the bright intensity of the moon interfering for much of the night. But please don’t despair; the Moon is amazing to look at too.

Where will these meteors be coming from? I hear you ask (or maybe not). Well the bit about Halley’s Comet is also true, though we won’t be colliding with the Comet head-on, only with its tail – the stream of lumpy and granular debris that trails behind it as the comet disintegrates. And if you think that’s still too close for comfort, Comet Halley has more than one tail and they each stretch for millions of miles in length!

Meteor over Northumberland

As the Earth orbits the sun throughout the year, it passes through a number of these comet tails, each one providing the debris material to form meteors. The debris material is mostly dust, the size of peppercorns, and as they pass through the Earth’s ionosphere and vapourise they form the streaks of light, which we see in awe-struck wonder. Tonight, it just happens to be Halley’s Comet, whereas the Perseid Meteor Shower in August is created when we pass through the tail (debris) of Comet Swift-Tuttle, when if you are lucky, you may see between 50 -100 meteors an hour!

The oddly-sounding name’ Eta Aquarid’ is so-called after the constellation that it appears to radiate from in the night sky – in this case, the Aquarius constellation. Specifically, the name comes from one of the stars in this constellation – Eta Aquarii.

Supermoon strikes again!

As I mentioned earlier, there is a full waxing gibbous moon tonight, which can only mean one thing, the imminent arrival of a full moon, on Thursday 7 May, and this time it’s another supermoon – hooray! The supermoon in May in traditionally called the ‘Flower Moon’ or the ‘Super Flower Moon’, due to the abundance of flowers that area appearing around this time of the year. Other names for it include ‘Corn Planting Moon’ and ‘The Milk Moon’.

A view of the full moon

Supermoons occur because the Moon orbits the Earth in a nearly-circular (squashed) ellipse, and at certain times throughout the year the Moon can either be slightly further away from the Earth, or slightly closer to it. When the Moon is closer to the Earth, the Moon appears larger and it can appear 7% larger and 30% brighter than a normal Full Moon.

I hope you have clear skies tonight and do wear warm clothes, get outside with a flask of hot chocolate and take it all in.