Sky-gazers will be in for an extra special treat this week with the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. The actual peak of the annual meteor shower extends over three days, but best viewing conditions are scheduled for the early morning hours just before dawn on Tuesday.
The Eta Aquarids are one of two meteor showers that occurs from the debris trail of Halley's Comet. The other is the Orionid meteor shower that will occur in October. Most of the meteors are microscopic in size, and move at blistering speeds of over 148,000 mph.
The Aquarids can be viewed in the south-southeastern portion of the sky originating from a radiant in the constellation Aquarius. The shower typically produces displays with 10-20 meteors an hour at the peak and will last into early Wednesday morning, but with less meteors visible. Some years, the Aquarids can produce up to 60 meteors per hour mainly south of the Equator.
Folks out looking for some shooting stars are advised to avoid light pollution from towns and cities in order to have an ideal dark sky for viewing. The moon will be in the waxing crescent phase and shouldn't provide too much of an obstruction with moon-set occurring prior to the peak.
Weather conditions are also a factor and can often bring disappointment to many if clouds are in the way. The current forecast calls for skies from the Southeast to the central and southern Plains and northern Mexico to be free of clouds during the peak of the meteor shower early in the morning Tuesday. A storm system will produce plenty of clouds and some showers from the Great Basin to the northern Plains, providing less than ideal conditions in those regions. Some of the best sky conditions in the United States will be across the Deep South from New Mexico eastward to the Carolinas.
So go on out and make a wish on a shooting star tonight.