ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Shooting stars, also known as meteorites, are the streaks of light you sometimes see in the night sky produced by the fleeting fragments of an asteroid or comet flying through space. As these tiny bits of comet collide with Earth’s atmosphere, the friction allows it to glow from the heat as these fragments burn with a tail-like appearance and shoot across the sky.
Tonight, the annual ETA Aquarid meteor shower reaches its peak with a stunning shooting star show of its own, but there’s a catch: not everyone gets the same show as others do depending on your latitude… we’ll get to that in a second.
This meteor shower is typically active between the dates of April 19th and May 28th year round, and is one of two meteor showers produced by the debris of Halley’s comet. The name comes from the constellation Aquarius, which is where these streaks of light appear to emerge radially out from.
Did you know that Halley’s comet takes around 76 years to revolve completely around the sun? It will make its return back to Earth in 2061.
As I mentioned before, this space show isn’t quite the same for everyone. This meteor shower typically puts on the best show for the Southern Hemisphere with up to 20-40 meteors per hour seen there. The farther north you go in latitude, the less meteors you typically see. Why?
The Southern Hemisphere is currently experiencing their fall season where their sunrise comes around at a much later time. In the Northern Hemisphere where we live, we’re currently experiencing our spring season. This means our sunrise happens much earlier, and therefore there’s less time spent in night, and less opportunity for the radiant point of the shower (the point these meteors appear to emerge from) to climb higher in the predawn sky for optimal viewing conditions.
How to view the ETA Aquarids in Rochester:
The Azimuth is the direction based on true north (geographic north pole), and the altitude is the height (in degrees) above the horizon.
Under ideal sky conditions, which means away from city lights in a completely clear, night sky you can expect to see about 5-10 meteors per hour for us here in the mid-latitudes. You can count the amount of possible meteors you see on one hand, but there’s still a chance to see them before the sun comes up this Thursday morning. Skies will likely remain cloudy until around midnight before slowly clearing out a decent amount through the early morning hours Thursday. This will be your best chance and time to see this meteor shower during the last couple hours of twilight before sunrise.
When will the sun rise and set in your city? Click HERE to find out!
For us in the mid-latitudes, the point that these meteor showers emerge from won’t be very high in the sky. This means you will need a very dark and clear sky over the southern horizon to get the most out of this show. Get a look at whether or not the forecast will cooperate HERE.
Seeing a “shooting star” race across the night sky is always a fun spectacle, especially when you’re least expecting it and happen to glance up at just the right moment. Is this something you should stay up all night for? Most likely not, but if you happen to be up during the early hours of the morning Thursday, don’t be surprised to see one of these flash across the sky.
~Meteorologist Christine Gregory