Set Your Alarm Now to Watch This Weekend's Dazzling Meteor Shower

If you're willing to get up early on Sunday, you can enjoy a fascinating view of the night sky.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read
Eta Aquarid meteor shower in Florida

An Eta Aquarid meteor shower is shown over Florida's Babcock Wildlife Refuge.

Diana Robinson Photography/Getty Images

If you're looking for something breathtaking to do this weekend, set an alarm clock for early Sunday and look to the sky. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is set to peak this weekend, with the potential for dozens of meteors each hour to shoot across the sky in the predawn hours of Sunday morning. While the number of meteors visible per hour will depend on where you're located, even those in less-than-ideal conditions should see up to 10 meteors per hour.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs annually between April 15 and May 27, peaking in early May. Meteors are leftover comet particles that come from broken asteroids. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is created from dust grains shed by Halley's Comet when it enters the inner solar system.

According to NASA, the Eta Aquarid meteors are notable for their speed, with the possibility of meteors in the stream hitting a maximum rate of 148,000 miles per minute as they reach the Earth's atmosphere. Their speed allows them to shed debris as they burn up in the atmosphere leaving what NASA calls "trains" in their wake. Those trains are streaks of light that can last in the sky for minutes after the meteors have passed by.

How to watch the Eta Aquarid meteor shower

As with any other meteor shower, getting the most out of the Eta Aquarid viewing experience has everything to do with location. Those in the southern hemisphere will be able to see more meteors, but those north of the equator will still get a decent amount.

When to get up?

Timing matters in viewing the Eta Aquarids. While they'll technically be visible all night, viewers will have the best chance of seeing them in the predawn hours on Sunday morning when the sky is darkest. And since the moon will be 14% full that night, light from the moon shouldn't disrupt viewing.

The nice thing about the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is that it will be visible throughout the night. However, several factors can affect when is the best time to view the shower, including time and cloud cover. Keep an eye on your local weather forecast to determine how cloudy it's expected to be in your area, and consider that the darkest periods of night usually occur after midnight, leading up to dawn.

What to look for?

You're looking for fiery streaks shooting across the sky. Think of meteors as dusty, leftover particles from broken asteroids. As asteroids travel around the sun, dust breaks away and take their own path through space. As Earth passes through those dusty areas, comprised of meteors, the meteors collide with the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrate. From our vantage point on Earth, we see the meteors blow up in a fiery event that creates streaks across the sky.

Leave the city behind

Speaking of light pollution, the chances of seeing the Eta Aquarids when looking to the sky over a big city is nearly zero. Instead, it's best to get as far away from city lights that pollute the night sky. NASA also recommends lying on your back and facing east for the best chance of seeing as many meteors as possible.