Watch for the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower this Weekend

The radiant of the Eta Aquarids rising. Looking to the south east from latitude 30 degrees north about 3 hours before local sunrise on May 5th. (Created by the author in Stellarium).

An often ignored meteor shower may offer fine prospects for viewing this weekend.

The Eta Aquarid meteors provide a dependable display in early May. With a radiant very near a Y-shaped asterism in northern Aquarius, the Eta Aquarids are one of the very few major showers that provide a decent annual show for southern hemisphere residents.  

This year, the peak of the Eta Aquarids as per the International Meteor Organization (IMO) comes on May 6th at 1:00 UT, or 9:00 PM EDT on May 5th. This favors European longitudes eastward on the morning of Monday, May 6th. The Eta Aquarid radiant rises just a few hours before dawn, providing optimal viewing in the same time frame.

Keep in mind, the shower is active from April 19th to May 28th. Predicting the arrival of the peak of a meteor shower can be an inexact science. North American observers may still see an early arrival of the Eta  Aquarids on May 5th or even the morning of the 4th.

Could “the 4th be with us” at least in terms of meteor shower activity?

The Eta Aquarids are one of two annual meteor showers associated with that most famous of comets: 1P/Halley.  The other shower associated with Halley’s Comet is the October Orionids. This makes it one of the very few periodic comets associated with two established annual meteor showers.

Like the Orionids, the Eta Aquarid meteors have one of the highest atmospheric velocities of any shower, at 66 kilometres per second. Expect short, swift meteors radiating from low in the southeast (or northeast if you’re based south of the equator) a few hours before local dawn.

This year’s ZHR is expected to reach 55. This year also offers outstanding prospects, because the Moon is only a 17% illuminated waning crescent just 4 days from New at the shower’s peak. There’s some thought in the meteor observing community that this shower experiences a cyclical peak every 12 years.

If this is indeed the case, we could be headed towards a mild lull in this shower around the 2014 to 2016 time frame. Performances from the Eta Aquarids over the past few years as per data from the IMO seem to bear this out, with a peak around 2009;

2012=ZHR 69

2011=ZHR 63

2010=No data

2009=ZHR 90


Still, 55 per hour is a respectable shower. Keep in mind, the ZHR stands for the “Zenithal Hourly Rate” and is an ideal number. This is the number of meteors an observer could expect to see under dark skies with no light pollution with the radiant directly overhead. Also, remember that no single observer can monitor the entire sky at once!

This is also one of the last big annual showers of the season until the Perseids in mid-August. The Gamma Delphinids (June 11th) and the June Bootids (Jun 27th and the June Lyrids (June 15th) are the only minor showers in June. July also sees another minor shower radiating from the constellation Aquarius, the Delta Aquarids which peak on July 30th. The daytime Arietids in June would put on a fine annual showing if they didn’t occur in… you guessed it… the daytime.

This weekend’s Eta Aquarids will put on a better display for the southern hemisphere, one of the very few showers for which this is true.

It’s a poorly understood mystery. Why does the northern celestial hemisphere seem to contain a majority of major meteor shower radiants? The Geminids, the Leonids, the Perseids, the Quadrantids… all of these showers approach the Earth from above the celestial equator, and even from above the ecliptic plane. The Eta Aquarids are one of the very few major showers that goes against this trend.

Is it all just a coincidence? Perhaps. Like total solar eclipses, meteor showers are as much a product of our position in time as well as space. New streams are shed as comets visit the inner solar system, some for the very first time. These older trails interact with and are dispersed by subsequent passages near planets. The 12 year fluctuation of the Eta Aquarids is thought to be related to the orbit of Jupiter which has a similar period.

For example, one meteor shower known as the Andromedids was prone to epic storm outbursts until the early 20th century. Now the stream is a mere trickle. Meteor showers evolve over time, and perhaps their seeming affinity for the northern hemisphere of our planet is a mere perception of our epoch. Maybe a future study could discern a bias due to the number of prograde versus retrograde cometary orbits, or perhaps statistical scrutiny could reveal that no such partiality actually exists.

All food for thought as you keep vigil these early May mornings for the meteoric “Drops from the Water Jar…” Be sure to post those meteor pics to the Universe Today’s Flickr forum, report those meteor counts to the International Meteor Organization, and tweet those fireball sightings to #Meteorwatch!

More Incredible Geminid Meteor Shower Images and Video

“This shot is a composite of about 700 frames from a time-lapse I took in Big Sur, CA. I found 61 frames with meteors in them. (Some frames had two or three meteors.) Then I stacked the frames and created masks for each meteor. This is my final shot!” Credit: Ken Brandon.

We have received so many great shots from the Geminid Meteor Shower, that we decided we needed to add another post (here’s our previous collection of Geminid Meteor Shower shots from around the world.) Enjoy the beauty and majesty of the night sky, captured in these amazing images. Click the images to see larger versions on our Flickr page, and thanks to everyone who submitted images and video.

“The Beacon: If you look closely you can see me looking up into the sky. Not a perfect shot but a lucky one. Credit to friend for firing the camera.” Credit: dwissman611 on Flickr.

Prolific astrophotographer John Chumack compiled this video of the Geminid Meteor Shower 2012, and in a minute and a half, shows over 400 meteors he captured on video!

Silent Witness, a Geminid Meteor from Black Balsam Knob near East Fork, North Carolina. Credit: Daniel Lowe/IStockTimelapse ©

Geminid passing the Orion Constellation. Credit: fxmurphy on Flickr

Geminid meteor composite from 36 frames. Credit: Mark Ezell.

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Incredible Sky Show: Geminid Meteor Shower Images from Around the World

Geminids at Gates Pass. Composite image from 30 frames of video. Credit: Sean Parker

The 2012 Geminid Meteor Shower has lived up to expectations, and here are some images and videos provided by people around the world.

“What an incredible show we had here!” said Sean Parker in Tucson, Arizona, USA. “I was able to see about 50 per hour.”

The images were shot at Gates Pass in Tucson, Arizona on the morning of 12-13-12. You can see M31 (Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million light years away) at the left next to the Milky way.

More below, and you can click on most of these images to see larger versions in Flickr or Twitter.

Geminid Fireball. A large Geminid burns up in the atmosphere above the iconic Flatirons of Boulder, CO. Credit: Patrick Cullis

And another by Patrick:

Geminid Meteor Shower above the Flatirons, Boulder, CO. Credit: Patrick Cullis

Raining Down on Roseberry Topping (Geminid Meteor Shower 2012).Credit: Peter Greig.

Peter says: “This is the only meteor I caught whilst on a Geminid meteor hunting trip …at Captain Cooks Monument, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire, UK.”

Geminid Meteor Over Death Valley. Credit: Gavin Heffernan/SunChaser Pictures

Meteors in Malta. Credit: Leonard Ellul-Mercer

Leonard shares: “Last night the sky was totally overcast in Malta and this was very depressing as I was looking forward to this meteor shower. At around midnight I decided to retire, However, before doing so I went on the roof and noted some very small breaks in the cloud, but in a matter of 10 minutes I noted 6 bright meteors in these small gaps. So I presumed that there was a good meteor shower going on beyond those clouds. After about 30 mins. the cloud break increased and the show started off. It was a great meteor shower with bright meteors appearing every one or two minutes.”

Here’s a compilation of various views from a news station in Modesto, California. Some shots are obviously from a fish-eye camera:

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Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

Winter Milky Way Geminids on December 12, 2012. Credit: John Chumack

The Geminid Meteor Shower is underway, with the peak on December 13th and 14th! is reporting that international observers are counting as many as 50 meteors per hour as Earth plunges into a stream of debris from rock comet 3200 Phaethon. Astrophotographer John Chumack in Ohio, USA took the image of a bright fireball last night (Dec. 12/13) and said he was seeing one or two meteors every minute or so, describing the sky show as “definitely one of the best Geminid showers I’ve seen in over 20 years!”

John also compiled a video, below.

So if you’ve got clear skies, get out there and look up! The best time to look will be after dark on Thursday, December 13 and before dawn on Friday, December 14. The Geminids are notably one of the most reliable meteor showers, and this year the timing is great as the new Moon won’t intefer with the shower. Astronomers from McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas predicts skywatchers can expect to see dozens of meteors per hour.

Additionally, NASA says that for the first time, Earth might also pass through the tail of another object, comet Wirtanen, which could possibly provide even more meteors in the sky. No one is really sure what kind of meteor action this comet will produce, but Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment off says even if the new shower is a dud, the Geminids should be great.

For the Geminids, meteors will appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, although they should be visible all over the sky. If Wirtanen does contribute to the shower, they may appear to come from the constellation Pisces.

If you’ve got cloudy skies or its too cold outside, there are a few alternatives:

NASA TV is going to have a live broadcast from 11:00 pm-3:00 am EST.

You can follow along via Twitter and MeteorWatch. All you need to do is check for the #meteorwatch hashtag, and people will be posting descriptions and images.

You can also “listen” to the meteor shower: The Air Force Space Surveillance Radar is scanning the skies above Texas. When a meteor or satellite passes over the facility–ping!–there is an echo. Check out SpaceWeatherRadio for the broadcast.

Geminid Meteor Shower and Meteorwatch

Credit: VirtualAstro

The Geminid Meteor Shower is the grand finale of astronomical events in 2012 and is usually the most reliable and prolific of the annual meteor showers.

This year we are in for a special treat as the Moon will be absent when the Geminids are at their peak on the evening of the 12th/ 13th of December. This means that the sky should be at its darkest when the shower is expected, and many more of the fainter meteors may be seen.

The Geminid meteor shower is expected to yield in excess of 50 meteors (shooting stars) per hour at peak for those with clear skies, the meteors it produces are usually bright with long persistent trains. If observing opportunities aren’t favorable or possible on the 12th/ 13th, meteor watchers can usually see high meteor activity a day or so either side of the peak.

As well as being the grand finale of 2012, the Geminids are special in another way. Unlike the majority of all the other annual meteor showers the Geminids are thought to be from an object known as 3200 Phaethon – an asteroid not a comet.

To celebrate this long anticipated event, there will be the Geminid Meteorwatch and anyone with an interest in the night sky can join in on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. The event will be an excellent opportunity to learn, share information, experiences, images and more. Whatever your level of interest, wherever you are on the planet Meteorwatch will run for approximately four days. All you need to do is follow along using the #meteorwatch hashtag.

As well as the wealth of information exchanged and shared on Twitter and the other social media outlets, there are helpful guides and information available on so you can get the most out of your #meteorwatch.
To get the ball rolling there is a Hollywood style trailer for the event, purely as a bit of fun and for people of all walks of life to feel inspired and to go outside and look up. You don’t need a telescope or anything, just your eyes and a little bit of patience to see a Geminid meteor.

Good luck

Brighter Than the Moon: Camera Captures Brilliant Leonid Fireball

The Leonid Meteor shower is usually notorious for the bright fireballs it can produce, but this fireball exploded with unexpected brilliance. Fortunately, an all-sky camera captured the event. NASA said there were numerous reports of a bright fireball over northwest Alabama on Sunday, Nov. 18 at approximately 7:30 p.m. EST. A check of the southeastern cameras operated by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office recorded the fireball, and its outburst was brighter than the Moon. If anyone happened to see this or capture anything similar with your camera, let us know!

Astrophotographers did manage to get some images of the Leonids over the weekend — which, other than this bright fireball — seemed to be relatively quiet. See images below:

A Leonid meteor over Trá Mór, Spiddal, Ireland on November 18, 2012 at 4:45 am local time. Credit: Trevor Durity

Trevor Durity captured a small Leonid fireball in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 18. “One of the few meteors I saw,” Trevor wrote on Flickr. “Pure luck to have caught it … Appeared at first like a very bright shooting star – went about 10 degrees and blew up.”

Also in the picture are the Gemini twins Castor and Pollux to the top middle, M44 the Beehive Cluster to the lower left; and the bright star Procyon to the lower right of the twins, and Leo the Lion on the left hand side of the picture.

A lone Leonid was captured over Donegal, Ireland. Credit: Brendan Alexander.

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Astrophotos: The 2012 Perseid Meteor Shower from Around the World

Caption: Perseid Meteors with Lunar & Planetary Conjunction on August 12, 2012. Credit: John Chumack.

Here’s some great views of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Universe Today readers around the world. Over the weekend was the peak of the annual meteor shower that never seems to disappoint! We start with one of our “regulars,” John Chumack from his observatory in Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA. But there were also many other objects in John’s field of view, including the waning crescent Moon, Venus, and Orion rising over the observatory dome, the Pleaides, Hyades, and Jupiter, too. John used a odified Canon Rebel Xsi & 17mm lens at F4, ISO 400, and a 20 second exposure. See more of John’s wonderful astrophotos at his Flickr page or at his website, Galactic Images.

More beautiful shots below:

Caption: The Perseids on August 13, 2012. Credit: M. Rasid Tugral from Ankara, Turkey

M. Rasid Tugral from Ankara, Turkey sent in this great image from August 13. Tugral is an accomplished astrophotographer and teaches at the Middle East Technical University in the Department of Physics.

By Patrick Cullis (pcully on Flickr) in Colorado, USA, taken on August 12, 2012 using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Caption: Perseids on August 9, 2012. Credit: Nu Am (tazacanitu).

Another great shot from August 9, 2012 by Nu Am (tzacanitu on Flickr) “Out of the camera raw, re-dimensioned to 25% and saved as jpg. Canon 50D + Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD IF @17mm, tripod, ISO 400, 30seconds, f/4.”

Caption: 2012 Perseids on August 12, 2012. Credit: Kevin Jung.

A lovely capture of two Perseid meteors in one shot by Kevin Jung(Kevin’s Stuff on Flickr). “Two Perseid meteors show up in a 30 second image shot during the night of August 11/morning of August 12,” Kevin wrote from Lowell, Michigan, USA. He used a Canon EOS 40D. “Since there were some meteors in all parts of the sky, I just pointed my camera to the north with Perseus just to the right of the frame,” Kevin explained. “I used the intervelometer and took 30 second shots automatically. It was lucky that the skies cleared in time to see anything. We had clouds all day, and then weather system was slow to move out of the area. The started to break up around 10pm, but it was until after midnight when the skies cleared up (with the exception of a few areas).”

Thanks to everyone who shared their images!

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Easiest Guide Ever to Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower

Caption: A bright fireball meteor on August 1, 2012. Credit: John Chumack.

This will probably be the most simple and easiest guide to viewing the Perseids and other meteor showers you may possibly ever read. The reason why it is so simple is when you are outside you want to concentrate on looking for meteors and not worrying about technical details, which are unnecessary for the casual observer.

First, a LITTLE about the Perseids: The Perseid meteor shower is an annual event occurring every August. They are tiny particles of dust and debris from the tail of a comet (109P/Swift-Tuttle) which planet Earth encounters every year in its orbit around the Sun. When these particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up causing bright flashes and streaks in the night sky. These are known as shooting stars or meteors.

Credit: NASA

To see Perseids (shooting stars/meteors) we only need to do a few simple things.

  1. Plan when you want to look for meteors: Check timings and set aside a good hour or more for observing (away from bright lights if possible). Meteors seldom appear immediately so give yourself a good hour or more to see as many as possible. Late evening and after midnight is a good time for meteor hunting. One of the best time to look, however, is during the dark hours immediately before dawn. There are some good guides with timings, etc. on, NASA, or Universe Today’s weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast
  2. Get comfortable: Dress warmly as even in August it can get chilly at night. Find yourself a good garden chair, deck chair, trampoline or place on the ground you can lay a sleeping bag or blanket, as the idea is for you to keep your gaze on the sky for as long as possible. Lying down on the ground or sitting on a reclining garden chair will make this much easier for you. Take with you food and drink to make the evening even more enjoyable.
  3. Where to look: A lot of guides will tell you to look in certain directions at certain times and be far too technical, this is totally unnecessary. All you need to do is look up and fill your gaze with sky for as long as possible (blink and you miss it). Meteors/shooting stars from meteor showers tend to appear randomly all over the sky, they will however originate from a point called the radiant which gives the meteor shower its name the Perseids radiant/point of origin is in the constellation of Perseus, hence the name. You don’t need to look in any particular direction, just look up.
  4. How to look: You do not need a telescope, binoculars or any other viewing aid; you only need your eyes.
  5. What to expect: Don’t expect to see the heavens raining down with fire. Expect to see one or more bright flashes/ streaks of light (meteors/shooting stars) every few minutes. The Perseids can deliver fifty to a hundred meteors per hour at their peak, which is just after the night of the 11th and 12th August through to the 13th and 14th August, be patient and you will see some. Occasionally you may be lucky to see an incredibly bright meteor known as a fireball, these are a real treat. Also, as an added bonus this year, Jupiter, Venus, and the crescent Moon are gathering together in the night sky just as the Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak.

Enjoy yourself and keep looking up, the more you look up the more you will see. When you look away that’s when you miss the best meteor of the evening.

For further information and to join in with the worldwide #meteorwatch on twitter follow @virtualastro and visit

Good luck!

NASA Provides Live All-Sky Video Feed for Quadrantid Meteor Shower

False-color image of a rare early Quadrantid, captured by a NASA meteor camera in 2010. (NASA/MEO/B. Cooke)


If you are hoping to see some meteors from the Quadrantid meteor shower but are being foiled by cloudy weather or if it’s just too cold outside to get up off your couch, NASA has come to the rescue. The Marshall Space Flight Center has set up a live all-sky camera feed of the skies over Huntsville, Alabama in the US. You can find the Ustream page with the feed here. Reports from Marshall say the weather looks very clear for tonight (Jan. 3) in Huntsville. Tonight is really your best shot to see this meteor shower this year.

If you plan to be a little more actively involved in watching this shower, join in on Meteorwatch, where you can share the experience via Twitter.

Of course, you will have to wait until it is dark in Huntsville to watch the video feed; during the daytime, the feed will just show a dark gray box. The camera is light-activated and will turn on at dusk each evening.

This shower will peak in the early morning hours of Jan. 4. The Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous Moon will set around 3 a.m. local time, leaving about two hours of excellent meteor observing before dawn.

Here’s a map of who should be able to see the Quadrantid meteors:

A map of worldwide Quadrantid visibility. Credit: NASA

Red areas will see no Quads, yellow just a few, and green should see a decent shower if they are in dark sky conditions.

Marshall Space Flight Center suggests that to view tonight’s Quadrantids, you should have an area with dark skies well away from city or street lights. Dress warmly and go out just after Moonset around 3 a.m. local time. Lie flat on your back on a blanket, lawn chair, or sleeping bag and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a meteor.

For more info see the our preview article on the Quadrantid meteor shower, or Marshall Space Flight Center’s Quadrantid info page.

Did The Draconids Perform?

Draconid Meteor Over Somerset UK Credit: Will Gater


After weeks of speculation of its intensity, the Draconid/Giacobond meteor shower finally arrived. Some astronomers predicted that this normally quiet meteor shower would deliver up to 1000 meteors per hour at its peak – Were they right?

At approximately 20:00 BST (21:00 UT) on October 8th 2011 the shower started in earnest and many in the UK and Europe looked forward to an evening of meteor watching.

Unfortunately, many people were under thick clouds and missed the display, but there were a few places where the clouds cleared and observers were treated to a memorable spectacle.

I have done many meteorwatch evenings in the past, but this one got exciting very quickly and the uncertainty of the amount of meteors was soon doused.

Many people including myself were popping outside and trying to glimpse meteors through the clouds, but most of the time the Meteorwatch Meteor Live View was being used.

Everything was fairly sedate apart from us all moaning about the weather, but then all of a sudden at approximately 20:30 BST (19:30 UT) The Meteor Live View app on the Meteorwatch website went crazy!

Meteor Live View Credit: Norman Lockyer Observatory UK

Many people started to get good breaks in the clouds including myself and there were reports of dozens of meteors in just a few short minutes, much to the envy and disappointment of those still clouded over.

At this time the International Meteor Organisation (IMO) reported observations of just over 300 meteors per hour (319 ZHR).

The evening continued and to everybody’s delight (to those who could see meteors), there were many. I saw 3 within a couple of seconds and this continued for about an hour.

Eventually rates started to decline, people saw less and the Meteor Live View started to show less activity.

At approximately 22:00 BST (21:00 UT) meteor activity dropped substantially – The show was over!

The IMO results were posted on their website with rates of just under 350 meteors per hour at the peak of the shower, reported by their observing stations.

Credit: IMO

Did the Dracondids/ Giacobonids live up to expectations in the end? I would say yes, a fairly heavy meteor shower, maybe it could be called a mini storm!