Meteor Showers and the Largest Full Moon of the Year
The eta Aquarid meteor shower will be visible in the early morning sky on Sunday May 6. The meteors are bits of dust left behind by Halley’s Comet, which last passed this way in 1986. Viewing should be best just before dawn. This shower’s radiant point doesn’t rise over our horizons until around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. The meteors are few and far even then, but the wee hours are a time for catching earth-grazing meteors in this shower.
Earthgrazers are meteors that skim horizontally through the upper atmosphere. They are slow and dramatic, streaking far across the sky.
The best time to look for Earthgrazers is between 2:00 to 2:30 a.m. local time when Aquarius is just peeking above the horizon. Bring a reclining chair, or spread a thick blanket over a flat spot of ground. Lie down and look up somewhat toward the east. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, although their trails will point back toward Aquarius. The predicted maximum is from 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
This year’s eta Aquarid shower may be a bit drowned by the full moon, which will be the largest appearing full moon of 2012. The moon will officially become full Saturday May 5 at 11:35 p.m. EDT. And because this month’s full moon coincides with the moon’s perigee — its closest approach to Earth — it will also be the year’s biggest. The moon will swing in 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) from our planet, offering skywatchers a spectacular view of an extra-big, extra-bright moon. And not only does the moon’s perigee coincide with the full moon this month, but this perigee will be the nearest to Earth of any this year, as the distance of the moon’s close approach varies by about 3 percent. To view this weekend’s supermoon to best effect, look for it just after it rises or before it sets, when it is close to the horizon. There, you can catch a view of the moon behind buildings or trees, an effect that produces an optical illusion, making the moon seem even larger than it really is.
Watch this informational video about the May 6, 2011 eta Aquarids: