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Look up! Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks early Sunday

May 04, 2013|By Deborah Netburn
  • Sky watchers gather for the Perseid meteor shower of August 2010. This weekend, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is at its peak.
Sky watchers gather for the Perseid meteor shower of August 2010. This weekend,… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Pull out the reclining lawn chairs and get yourself to the darkest area you can find: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower is peaking this weekend, and if you get lucky, you can catch up to 30 "shooting stars" per hour.

You may also want to set your alarm clock: Sky watchers say the best time to catch the light show is in the hour or two just before dawn on Sunday.

Here in Southern California that means you'll want to start your meteor hunting around 4 a.m.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower occurs each year in late April or early May when the Earth passes through a stream of dust and debris left in the wake of Halley's Comet.

These little bits of what the Jet Propulsion Laboratory calls "comet stuff" crash into our atmosphere at 44 miles per second, and burn up about 60 miles above the Earth's surface.

The streaks of light that we call meteors are kind of like those streaks that a bug makes on a windshield when you are speeding down the freeway.

The meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but if you don't know where that is, don't sweat it. Just lay back, give your eyes time to adjust and keep an eye on the whole sky.

There will be a thin crescent moon this weekend, so moonlight shouldn't get in the way of your sky watching enjoyment.

Astronomers at JPL note that the Eta Aquarids have a broad peak, so meteors may be active for a few days after the 5th. That means that if you get inspired, you can keep looking early Monday morning too.

Happy sky watching!

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