- The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is due to peak May 5, offering up to 40 shooting stars per hour.
- This year could be particularly spectacular with experts predicting a meteor “outburst.”
- If you’re heading out to see the display, here are NASA’s top tips for getting the best look.
A spectacular meteor shower is about to peak, giving sky gazers the opportunity to see up to 40 shooting stars every hour.
The dazzling display is known as the Eta Aquarids and takes place in May each year when Earth travels through debris left behind by Halley’s Comet,
This year is set to be even more stunning than usual, with experts predicting an “outburst” that could double the number of meteors in the sky.
“When you go outside during the Eta Aquarids this year, you’ll see particles from Comet Halley that started their journey in the time of King David,” Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told Insider.
The meteor shower is active this year from between April 15 to May 27, but it is expected to peak on May 5.
Here’s how to get the best view of this stunning event, according to NASA.
Prepare for a stunning spectacle
Side-by-side images show footage of the meteors next to a picture of Halley’s comet in 1986.
The Eta Aquarids are one of the few showers that favor the Southern Hemisphere. But this year, experts say that even in the Northern Hemisphere, there may be twice as many meteors visible as in previous years.
That’s because Jupiter has propelled and concentrated ancient debris from Halley’s comet into our planet’s path.
Halley’s comet passes the Earth about every 76 years, and every time, it leaves a little dust in its wake. This particular dust was left behind by the comet about 3,000 years ago, according to Cooke.
“This year, Jupiter has piled this 3,000-year-old stuff in front of us and we’re gonna run into it,” said Cooke, specifying that there’s no risk associated with meteor showers.
Go outside a few hours before dawn
Going late at night gives you the best chance of seeing the showers.
Longhua Liao/Getty Images
“The Eta Aquarids are not very respectful of one’s sleep cause you have to get up in the early morning hours — the pre-dawn hours — to see them,” said Cooke.
The shower is expected to peak around 4 a.m. UTC on May 5, but Cooke advised the best time to go out is around 2 to 3 a.m. your local time.
Unfortunately, this year the moon will be full, which means there’s a chance it will outshine the meteors.
‘The light from the full moon increases the background of the sky, which washes out the faint meteors,” said Cooke.
Still, because of the outburst you’re still in with a chance of seeing up to 40 meteors per hour, said Cooke.
“The important thing is you’ll see meteors if you go outside and look,” he added.
Look for streaks and fireballs
Look out for long trains streaking the sky caused by debris from the meteor burning up in the atmosphere.
“You can imagine meteors as snowy dirt balls, but loosely held together,” Cooke said.
“When they hit the atmosphere, they not only burn up, they break apart, they fragment. And if they’re big and dusty, they create these persistent trains, which are dust they left behind in their wake,” he said.
The shower may also bring the occasional “fireball,” which is a bright flash that happens when the meteor explodes upon hitting the atmosphere.
Lie on your back and look up
People looking up at a meteor shower.
For the best shot at seeing a shooting star, head away from city lights. Lay on your back — bring a blanket, lawn chair, or sleeping bag — and look straight up to the sky. No need to bring goggles or a telescope as the meteors are best seen with the naked eye.
NASA recommends pointing your feet east for the best view of the shower, though Cooke claims the most important thing is to look away from the moon.
Shooting stars can appear anywhere in the sky, but if you want something to point your gaze to, look for the Aquarius constellation, which is where the shower gets its name.
Be patient, and let your eyes adjust
Going late at night give you the best chance of seeing the showers.
Qing Zai Yi Téng / EyeEm/Getty images
Chances are you weren’t driving in complete darkness and you would have been looking at your phone to get you where you need to be.
That means your eyes will need some time to adjust.
“I often get people say: ‘I went outside to look at such and such meteor shower and I didn’t see any. I was texting my friends and they didn’t see it either.’ Well, maybe that’s because you were looking at your phone all the time instead of looking up,” said Cooke.
Be patient. NASA says you should give your eyes at least 30 minutes to get used to the dark sky before expecting to spot the shooting stars.
Next year’s outburst will be ‘even stronger’
Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, Babcock Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images
If you can’t go to see the Eta Aquarids this year, don’t despair: experts think the same debris will be in our planet’s path next year.
“Next year there will be an even stronger outburst,” said Cooke
“After that, the next time they will be an outburst will be in the year 2044 through 2046. So you will have to wait over 20 years to see another Eta Aquarids outburst,” he added.