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Eta Aquariid meteor shower peak: Will the burst be visible over MA?

MASSACHUSETTS – The Eta Aquariids meteor shower has been going on since mid-April, but this weekend's peak is expected to be something special, Massachusetts sky conditions permitting.

Rainfall will peak overnight on Saturday and Sunday, May 4th and 5th. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for Saturday calls for mostly cloudy skies with the possibility of showers overnight. The weather forecast for Sunday calls for similar conditions: cloudy skies with a chance of showers, according to the National Weather Service.

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A few things make the Eta Aquariids a shooting star show worth watching. First, the moon, which largely washed out the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, shouldn't be a problem. The waning crescent moon will have set before sunrise during peak viewing times.

Second, 2024 could be a great year for an “outburst,” potentially sending meteors flying at a rate of about one per minute. That's more likely in the Southern Hemisphere, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com, but if it happens, it will still be impressive in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Eta Aquariids – sometimes spelled Aquarids with a single “i” – also usually put on a good show because they are fast, flying through the sky at about 148,000 miles per hour. According to NASA, they are known to produce fireballs with glowing trains that can last for several seconds to minutes.

Under clear, dark skies in the Northern Hemisphere, the Eta Aquariids typically produce up to 30 meteors per hour.

The shower, which began April 15 and continues through May 27, intersected at times with the fireball-producing Lyrids that ended Monday.

The frequent Perseids meteor shower in August is Cooke's top choice for meteor shower viewing, but the Eta Aquariids are easily No. 2 due to the possibility of an outbreak. The Geminids, which peak on December 13, are No. 3 the experts. Cooke said that despite strong disturbances from the moon, a large number of bright meteors should still be visible.

Outbursts, or meteor storms as these events are sometimes called, are caused by particles that began around 390 B.C. were ejected by comet Halley, the parent of the Eta aquariids. The Eta Aquariids rank 6th among meteor showers in terms of the number of bright meteors and fireballs.

The Eta Aquariids appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer, the 10th largest constellation in the sky but still difficult to see with the naked eye because none of its stars are particularly bright. The brightest, Sadalsuud or Beta Aquarii, is a rare yellow supergiant with a mass nearly five times that of the Sun. At 110 million years old, it is relatively young for a star and is about 600 light-years away.

However, don't get caught up in finding the constellation. Meteors can come from any direction. Dress warmly, fill a thermos with coffee or another warm beverage, and bring a lawn chair and blankets to your dark sky retreat. Give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness, then sit back and enjoy.

If all that isn't reason enough to get up early, consider this: The Eta Aquariids are your last chance to look for meteors until the Delta Aquariids meteor shower at the end of July. It lasts more than a month and overlaps with the summer favorite, the Perseids.

Anna Harden

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