There's A Meteor Shower Tonight And Australia's Got The Best Seat
If you're not busy at about 2 am tomorrow morning -- which presumably you're not -- the sky needs your attention.
The annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower -- which began in mid-April -- is coming in hot and fast, set to dazzle southern skies as it peaks over the next few nights.
Granted, it's peak viewing times are painfully early (or late depending on your schedule), but it's one of the best and most reliable showers each year.
"Predictions are usually pretty accurate in the sense that we kind of know what this meteor shower is doing, whereas some are a bit all over the place," ANU astrophysicist Dr. Brad Tucker told 10 daily.
This year, it will peak on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning.
"It starts to be visible from 2 am, the peak is around 3-4 am and it should happen all the way to sunrise," Dr. Tucker said.
The shower is made up of debris left by Halley's Comet as it circles around the sun -- bits of rock and ice hurtling through Earth's atmosphere for us to wish upon.
Halley's Comet hasn't passed through the inner solar system since 1986 -- and is not due back until 2061 -- but every year we pass through the dust and debris it left behind hundreds of years ago.
As these fast-moving meteors hit our atmosphere, they leave behind bright trails across the night sky. Eta Aquariid meteors are known for their speed, which according to NASA travel at about 66 kilometres per second.
When it comes to getting the best view, darkness is key when witnessing astronomical events and, this year, the moon won't be around to spoil the fun.
"The moon provides a lot of illumination to the sky, it really makes it bright, so that means it washes out some of the meteors," Dr Tucker said.
"There's no moon tonight. Because it was a new moon yesterday, it'll be very dark, which is great."
While the moon has graciously stepped aside for the event, it's still recommended you get yourself to a spot with as little light pollution as possible -- a nearby oval if you live in urban areas, or jump in the car and head further out from your light-polluting city.
"As long as you're not standing there with a bunch of bright lights next to you," Dr. Tucker suggested.
The Eta Aquariid shower is named after Eta Aquarii -- the star from which the meteors appear to emanate. This point, known as the shower's radiant, is best known to you and me as one of the stars which form the constellation Aquarius' water jar.
If your imagination is so inclined, the Aquarius constellation forms the shape of a man pouring water from a jug -- though this week, it will pour meteors.
Because the Aquarius constellation sits quite high in southern hemisphere skies, Australia has one of the most spectacular views, weather permitting.
The shower will be visible in the north-eastern sky and there's no need for telescopes or fancy equipment.
"If you wait a few minutes your eyes will adjust and you'll start seeing a bunch of these meteors," Dr Tucker said.
"In fact, telescopes narrow your vision. So really your eyes are the best way to see this spectacle."
Earth crosses the orbital path of Halley's Comet twice a year.
The second time, in mid-October, sparks the Orionid meteor shower because it appears to radiate from the Orion constellation.
When comparing the pair, however, May's showers are much more worth getting up in the middle of the night for.