May is continuing to be a month to watch the night skies.
The Eta Aquarid Meteor shower from 1P/Halley that started in April is peaking May 4-6. Between 30 to 50 meteors per hour are expected in the pre-dawn hours. Although they are more visible in the southern hemisphere because their radiant is the southern constellation Aquarius, Time and Date suggests watching for them about 3 a.m. CDT.
Late in the month, May 30-31, watch for a somewhat more recently-known meteor shower, the Tau Herculids. EarthSky suggests it may be an exciting display this year.
Coming from the parent comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, (SW3), it was noticed by astronomers in 1930. Although not bright, it keeps breaking up and has a large amount of debris.
I the weather doesn’t co-operate or you miss either meteor shower and want to know when others are still coming in 2022 visit the Old Farmer’s Almanac Meteor Calendar. It has good-to-know dates and information.
Now that April’s full moon is starting to wane moonlight will hopefully not interfere with April’s meteor shower: the Lyrids.
Known for how bright they are and fast they fly across the sky leaving glowing trails of dust, they already began on April 16, but they peak between April 21-23 with between 15 to 20 meteors per hour.
The Lyrids, called that because they seem to come from the constellation Lyra, were first recorded by the Chinese in 687 BC, making them the oldest known meteor shower.
What observers see is debris from the C/1861 G1 Thatcher comet in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as the comet’s orbit crosses those skies in mid-late April.
Best time to watch is predawn when the moon has set and the sky is still dark. If watching for them, give your eyes a chance to adjust to the night sky and find a spot away from street and highway lights and businesses.
Put August 11 on your calendar to watch the night sky. The best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be entertaining night sky watchers with at least 40 fireballs an hour when they peak next week. However, they have been known to rack up as many as 100 meteors per hour.
As debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs annually when earth’s orbit takes it near the comet’s path from the end of July to mid-August. The meteors are already zooming across the sky but in 2021 the peak is Aug. 11-13.
If you like company or have trouble seeing them, tune into NASA which has invited everyone to watch with them. Watch time is Aug. 11-12 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. CDT on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
If weather is a problem, there is likely to be a second chance Aug. 12-13. The livestream is hosted by the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
A crescent moon will be setting early so moonlight shouldn’t be a factor. Watch between midnight and dawn away from city lights. Some folks stretch out on blankets but if the ground is dewy damp pull out a lawn chair.
Don’t worry if you don’t see any meteors right away. It takes a few minutes to adapt to the night sky. The meteor shower radiant appears to be above Perseus.
The Eta Aquarids, the first half of Halley’s Comet’s two rounds of meteor showers, peak May 4-6, 2021. The two meteor showers are debris from Comet Halley as Earth passes through the comet’s path around the Sun.
Seen in both hemispheres, the Southern Hemisphere arguably offers a better view now when its radiant, the Aquarius constellation, is overhead and Northern is better for its second round, the Orionids, in October. But both meteor showers are popular with sky watchers.
After acclimating your sight to the night, look in the southern sky for Eta Aquarii, the constellation’s brightest star. Depending on the weather, you may be treated to more than 30 meteorites per hour.
The moon, now in its waning crescent phase should not be a factor, particularly if watching for the meteorites early on May 6 before dawn.
Assuming the weather cooperates, early risers should have no trouble spotting a fireball zooming across the sky shortly before dawn in the next few days. The Lyrids meteor shower is happening now.
They seem to be shooting out (radiant) from the Lyric constellation just northwest of its bright Vega star. They are debris from the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), first noted more than 2,500 years ago.
The best days to look for them are April 21-22 when the Lyrids are expected to peak at about 18 meteors an hour. Pre dawn is the best time to watch because the moon is waxing gibbous so its illumination won’t be a factor after it sets.
For the time to watch in your zone visit Time and Date. For more information on where to look visit Space which has a map to help find the radiant. For more basic meteor and Lyrid information visit NASA Lyrids.
Look up to take your mind off 2020 politics and pandemic that still plague us on earth. The sky is endlessly interesting with bright planets such as Venus in the early morning eastern sky and Saturn and Jupiter still a cozy couple in the early twilit southwestern sky.
Now, add to the mix the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that has been known to send out from 50 to 100 fireballs an hour. Associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids were named for the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.
The good news in 2021 is that the Quadrantids peak early morning before sunrise Jan. 3. Because sunrise at this time of year in the northern hemisphere is shortly after 7 a.m., the Quadrantids peak time of around 6 a.m. means you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to catch them.
Best plan is to let your eyes acclimate to the darkish sky and look northeast where their radiant (place of origin) will be ascending.
The bad news in 2021 is that the full moon ending 2020 on Dec. 29 (into early morning Dec. 30) is only in its waning gibbous phase. That means the bright, nearly full orb of 81 % illumination, still high in the sky, can outshine the meteor lights.
If you miss the Quadrantids, mark the calendar for the Lyrids meteor shower that peaks April 21-22.
BTW – next three full moons are the Wolf Moon/Old Moon, Moon After Yule on Jan. 28; the Snow Moon/Hunger Moon on Feb. 27 and the Crow Moon/ Lenten Moon/Worm Moon on March 28.
Prime time to see the two planets at their closest is 4:15 p.m. CST Monday, low in the southwest. But you can see them fairly close to each other through December.
What regular sky watchers know is that the two planets do pass near each other every 20 years as they last did in 2000. The difference this year is that their orbits bring them 10 times closer than in 2000.
Indeed, they will be closer than they have been seen at night than in 800 years and closer during the day in 400 years. Seen together as a “great conjunction,” they may resemble one large or elongated planet or star.
As for the meteors, the Ursids which shoot across the sky seemingly radiating from Ursa Minor about 10 meteors per hour, aren’t as plentiful as the Geminids. However, both can be seen Dec. 20-22. The Ursid comet parent is 8P/Tuttle.