Friday, May 3, 2013

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, May 4th and 5th - "Grin and Bear It"

The predawn hours of May 4th and 5th are peak viewing

opportunities May’s Eta Aquarids meteor shower.  This annual shower comes out of the Eastern sky at approximately 4:00 a.m. no matter where you are on our planet.  The radiant for this particular shower is the star system that makes up the water jar in the constellation of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. This cluster is Y-shaped and its primary star is named Eta. The instructions for finding the radiant group sounds an awful lot like Peter Pan talking to Wendy. “Second star to the left and straight on to morning.”  Luckily, you don’t have to find the radiant of a meteor shower to enjoy the show.

The source for the meteors of the Eta Aquarid shower is none other than the debris field of good, old, reliable Halley’s Comet.  These meteors have a ZHR (Zenith Hourly Rate, or how many fall per hour) of thirty to fifty visible meteors in the Northern Hemisphere and sixty to eighty meteors in the Southern Hemisphere.  We’re in luck too, because this year’s waning crescent moon gives us a darker sky and astronomer’s are predicting a much better meteor display than we had last year.

For you Star Trek fans out there (and who isn’t?) the constellation of Aquarius immortalizes the story of Ganymede (as in the quadrant), a Trojan prince who, while watching his father’s flock on day, had the misfortune to be kidnapped by Aquila, Zeus’ giant eagle.  The eagle, under orders by the king of gods himself, carried the lad to Olympus where he was forced to serve drinks for a living.  Ganymede rebelled and poured the contents of his water jar over the Earth, causing a global flood.  Zeus felt a little guilty for turning a former prince into a slave and created the constellation of Aquarius to honor his libation bearer.  The kid probably would have been happier with better tips, but that’s the rich and powerful for you.

Warmer weather and clearer skies will give many of us the opportunity to enjoy the Eta Aquarid shower this weekend.  It promises to be worth getting up early, or staying up late for.  You won’t need protective eye gear - just a comfy spot.  Enjoy.


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