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Eta Aquarid meteor shower 2022: When, where and how to see it

Justin Ng of Singapore captured this view of a bright Eta Aquarid meteor hurtling across the night sky over Mount Bromo, on the Indonesian island of Java.
Justin Ng of Singapore captured this view of a bright Eta Aquarid meteor hurtling across the night sky over Mount Bromo, on the Indonesian island of Java. (Image credit: © Justin Ng )

Although the Perseid meteor shower in August may draw the most attention, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which occurs from roughly late April to mid-May, offers a long stretch of spectacular "shooting stars" that even a casual observer can spot in the night sky.

The peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, when the most meteors are visible, should happen before dawn on May 5, according to Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. That means you'll need to schedule your stargazing time overnight on May 4 and May 5.

Rates this year can reach up to 50 meteors per hour during that time, in theory, Cooke told Space.com. The meteor shower is of medium brightness, and the darker your skies the more you'll see. If possible, try to find a spot away from city lights, which can dampen the view.

"The Etas are not a shower that you can go out to see after sunset because the radiant won't be up," Cooke told Space.com for our annual check in. You'll need to get outside around 2 a.m. your local time to try and see the Eta Aquarids, Cooke said. From then on, the rates will continue to increase until dawn.

Although the moon will be in its waxing crescent phase when the Eta Aquarids peak and will shine about 15% full. 

Photos: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower in pictures
Video: Eta Aquarid meteors captured by NASA all-sky cameras

Where to look

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower of 2022 will peak overnight on May 4 and 5. The shower's radiant is located at the center of this stellar map, in the constellation Aquarius.  (Image credit: Chris Vaughan)

The meteors appear to originate from Eta Aquarii, one of the brighter stars in the constellation Aquarius (opens in new tab). (The point meteors appear to come from is called the radiant.) For people in mid-northern latitudes, the radiant won't be very high in the sky, so if that's where you're located, you'll need a dark-sky site with a relatively clear southern horizon to make the most of the meteors.

Observers near the equator will have the best views, since the Aquarius constellation is more prominent in the southern sky. But even as far north as Miami, the view will be much better than it will be from New York or San Francisco, for example. Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will have the best view of all and will see the shower's radiant in the north. Nights are also becoming longer in the Southern Hemisphere as the June solstice, and thus the austral winter, is approaching. Observers in the Northern Hemisphere will need to look lower on the southeastern horizon to see the meteors.

How to see them

Although Eta Aquarid meteors will appear to originate from the same point, you shouldn't stare straight at the radiant to find meteors. If you do, you might miss the meteors that create the longest bright streaks across the sky.

The best way to see the meteors, according to Cooke, is to lie flat on your back and look straight up. That way, you get the widest view of the sky, and you won't have to strain your neck.

What causes the Eta Aquarids?

Meteor showers are the flashes of dust grains that burn up in the atmosphere. They occur when the Earth crosses the paths of comets, which leave dust along their orbits. That's why they happen on certain dates and appear to originate from specific points in the sky. The Eta Aquarids are associated with Halley's Comet, but their path separated from the comet long ago.

"All meteors move off the track of the comet orbit," Cooke said. "When they come off the comet, they are at a slightly different speed, and that changes the orbit a bit … Other things besides gravity mess with it," such as radiation pressure and even interplanetary gas, he added.

The Eta Aquarids don't produce as many meteors per hour as the more famous Perseid meteor shower in August, but they are just as bright, if not brighter. The meteoroids (the actual dust grains) are about a millimeter across, and there's no chance that they'll hit the ground, Cooke said. That's because they are too small and move too fast to endure the plunge through Earth's atmosphere; the heat generated from the friction with the atmosphere obliterates the little pieces of space rock.

Meteorites — the space rocks that make it to the ground — tend to be chunks of asteroids, because they are moving more slowly relative to Earth. "They tend to come from behind, like they are trying to catch up to us," Cooke said.

An Eta Aquarid fireball lights up the sky over Devils Tower, part of the Bear Lodge Mountains in Wyoming. Astrophotographer David Kingham captured this shot during the 2013 Eta Aquarid meteor shower. (Image credit: David Kingham/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Editor's note: If you snap an amazing Eta Aquarid meteor shower photo that you'd like to share with us and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, send images and comments to us at spacephotos@space.com

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Jesse Emspak
Space.com Contributor

Jesse Emspak is a freelance journalist who has contributed to several publications, including Space.com, Scientific American, New Scientist, Smithsonian.com and Undark. He focuses on physics and cool technologies but has been known to write about the odder stories of human health and science as it relates to culture. Jesse has a Master of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley School of Journalism, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Rochester. Jesse spent years covering finance and cut his teeth at local newspapers, working local politics and police beats. Jesse likes to stay active and holds a fourth degree black belt in Karate, which just means he now knows how much he has to learn and the importance of good teaching.