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Sky watchers can look forward to a few exciting nights when the Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks this week. The meteor shower is expected to start Tuesday and last through Thursday, with the largest number of meteors visible Wednesday before dawn, according to EarthSky.org.

The best viewing location will be in the Southern Hemisphere – and all you have to do is look up.

What are Eta aquarids?

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks each year in early May as Earth travels through Halley’s Comet Debris Trail (1P / Halley). The Orionid meteor shower in October also comes from this comet.

Halley’s famous comet is visible from Earth approximately every 76 years. It was last seen in 1986 and won’t be visible until 2061.

Every year when Earth collides with the comet’s orbit, vaporizing debris flies through our atmosphere at a whopping 148,000 miles per hour, according to NASA, making meteors well known for their speed. Rapid meteors tend to leave behind glowing dust ‘trains’, producing magnificent ‘shooting stars’.

Under normal conditions, the annual meteor shower typically produces about 30 meteors per hour. It is named after its radiance, or direction of origin, which appears to come from the constellation Aquarius.

The Eta Aquarids are one of the best meteor showers of the year for people in the Southern Hemisphere, as Aquarius is higher in the sky there – but it’s also visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

An image of an Eta Aquarid meteor from NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network station in Tullahoma, Tennessee, in May 2013. / Credit: NASA

When and where to watch Eta aquarids

The shower is visible in both hemispheres, with the best viewing occurring just before dawn on Wednesday. Locating the radiating point is not necessary for visualization – all you have to do is search.

Viewing in the southern hemisphere is preferable, but not necessary. From the northern hemisphere, shooting stars often appear as “earth grazers”: long meteors that appear to graze the Earth’s surface near the horizon.

To see a meteor shower, it is advisable to escape the city lights and find an open area. Lie on your back with your feet facing east and look up, leaving about 30 minutes in the dark for your eyes to adjust.

Be patient and don’t forget a blanket!

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