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Eta Aquariids meteor shower 2021 peaks tonight: how to see the shooting stars

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A meteorite of the swarm of meteorites Perseida illuminate at the sky above Salgotarjan, Hungary, early Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. The Perseid meteor shower occurs every year in August when the Earth passes through debris and dust of the Swift-Tuttle comet. (Peter Komka/MTI via AP)
The Eta Aquariids is caused by the debris left by Halley’s Comet (Credits: AP)

The annual Eta Aquariids meteor shower is set to reach its peak tonight, blanketing the UK with shooting stars.

The meteor shower occurs every year during the beginning of May and will result in up to 50 meteors being visible per hour.

The best time to see the meteors will be late tonight or very early tomorrow morning when the sky is at its darkest.

Even if you miss it this evening, you’ll have a chance to catch it tomorrow night.

The Eta Aquariids will still appear at one-quarter peak strength for the next couple of nights.

And if you haven’t set out to watch a meteor shower before, then this year is a particularly good one to start out with.

Because the moon will be in a waning crescent phase, only 28% of it will be illuminated. This means the sky will be particularly dark and you won’t have moonlight interfering with your ability to spot the meteors.

2016 Orionids Meteor Shower; Shutterstock ID 1024802635; Purchase Order: -
The sky should be clear for stargazing tonight (Credits: Shutterstock / Brian Spencer)

This celestial display is associated with the Halley’s Comet, officially designated 1P/Halley, which orbits the sun once every 76 years.

Anna Ross, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, explained: ‘As both the Earth and Halley’s Comet have elliptical orbits around the Sun, these two intersect twice per year.

‘This causes not only the Eta Aquariids but also the Orionids meteor shower in October.’

Eta Aquariids meteor shower 2021: Where does the name come from?

The Eta Aquariids takes its name from the constellation of Aquarius (MailOnline)
The Eta Aquariids takes its name from the constellation of Aquarius (MailOnline)

The Eta Aquariids takes its name from the constellation of Aquarius in the southern hemisphere, where the shooting stars appear to originate from.

Meteoroids from Halley’s Comet strike the Earth’s atmosphere at an approximate speed of 150,000 miles per hour (240,000kph), burning up in the process.

While the Eta Aquariids is active from late April to near the end of May, Ms Ross said the best time to see it will be at dawn tomorrow, May 6.

Eta Aquariids meteor shower 2021: How can I see the shooting stars?

It'll be cold out, so make sure you wrap up warm if you're going meteor spotting (Getty)
It’ll be cold out, so make sure you wrap up warm if you’re going meteor spotting (Getty)

Ms Ross explained: ‘The meteor shower is visible from the 19th of April until the 28th of May this year with the best night to view the shower being the night of the 5th-6th of May, when up to 50 meteors per hour will be visible.

‘However, this is a trickier one to spot as, despite meteors being visible all over the sky, the radiant (the easiest region to see them) will be only rising in the early hours of the morning here in the UK.’

She advises getting far away from all artificial lights to increase the chances of catching a glimpse of the shooting stars on a moonlit night.

Ms Ross said: ‘For the best chances to spot the Eta Aquariids find a dark area of clear sky and allow around 20 minutes to let your eyes adapt to the dark.

‘It may also be advisable to lie down as you may be looking up for a long time.’

US space agency Nasa also offers the following advice: ‘To view the Eta Aquariids find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.

‘Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.

‘After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient—the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.’

MORE : When is the Eta Aquariids meteor shower 2021 and how can you see it?

MORE : Meteor particles from 430,000 years ago discovered in Antarctica

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