The Woodward News

May 3, 2013

Weekend chance to view meteor shower

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — It is the age of Aquarius.  At least when speaking about meteor showers.

Because the Eta Aquarids meteor shower is expected to peak this weekend.

Dr. Steven Maier, associate professor of physics at NWOSU, said that "the reason it is called the Eta Aquarids is because the radiant, or center of the meteor shower, is in the constellation Aquarius."  Within the constellation for the "water bearer," Maier said the radiant will be closest to the star known at Eta.

He said the meteor shower "is supposed to peak on May 5, but it has a broad maximum, which means it could be really visible as early as the 3rd and as late as the 7th."

"It's usually a pretty decent meteor shower, provided the weather cooperates," he said.

For those wanting to catch a glimpse of these meteors, Maier said to go out this weekend and look to the southeast, close to the horizon or just above.

"The best time to view the shower will be in the morning just before sunrise, around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.," he said.

The great thing about meteor showers is that "no special equipment is needed" to view them, Maier said.

"You don't need a telescope, you don't need binoculars.  Just go outside, let your eyes adjust to the darkness," he said.

And while he describes the Eta Aquarids as "a pretty good meteor shower," Maier warns "don't expect a light show."

"You've got to be patient," he said.  "You might see a couple of meteors and then a few minutes will pass before you'll see another."

He said at its peak, the Eta Aquarids will average around 10 to 20 meteors an hour.

"So if you're going to watch, you'd better set aside an hour's time because it's going to take your eyes 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness," he said.

For the best viewing opportunity, he suggests "getting away from city lights and turning off yard lights."

If you're wondering where all the Eta Aquarid meteors are coming from, Maier said "what you're seeing are remnants of Halley's Comet."

"As the comet makes it's orbit around the sun, it leaves a path of debris," he said, noting "the Earth passes through this particulate every year about this time of year."

But this debris isn't anything to be worried about, Maier said because "when you see the average meteor it is at most the size of a grain of sand."

"These are really pretty small pieces that have fallen off of Halley's Comet that are burn super fast and super bright as they enter the Earth's atmosphere," he said.

Even some of the bigger meteors "are only about pebble size.  And if you see a fireball, that's about the size of your fist or a bit larger, but they're more rare," he said.