Science & Tech Editor
Apr. 29 marked 100 days of the Trump administration. But on a larger scale, this date also marked International Astronomy Day, a holiday designated to celebrate the larger than life events in space.
In late April and early May, a meteor shower, known as Eta Aquarids, will fill the night sky with shooting stars. In coordination with the astrological holiday, people around the globe gaze at the night sky for the chance to see this cosmic spectacle.
This year, the peak of this meteor shower will be just before dawn on May 4 and 5. During this time, according to NASA, up to 30 meteors can be seen streaming across the sky each hour. Travelling approximately 148,000 mph, these meteors leave a glowing trail across the sky.
The Eta Aquarid meteors are debris from the tail of Halley’s comet. After dispersing from the comet on its last orbit, the glow of these meteor showers occurs when the debris enters the atmosphere. When Earth runs into these particles, it’s like bugs hitting Earth’s windshield, or, in this case, the atmosphere.
The best time to view these bug splatters in the sky is just before dawn because the light from the sun is at its steepest angle. The particles colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere will be the most radiant in the East, as the Earth rotates toward the sun.
As a result, glowing streaks across the sky will appear above Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas. The Eta Aquarids will be predominantly seen during the early morning hours, due to the confluence of the sun, Earth, and comet’s orbit.
Organizations such as Night Sky Network suggest finding an area with as little light pollution as possible in order to get the best glimpse of the meteor shower. Santa Barbara offers many places away from the city lights that face south, over the ocean. From this unique vantage point, some of the Eta Aquarids’ shooting stars are called ‘earthgrazers’ because their streak appears as though it is gliding along the horizon.
The Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit brought volunteers to the Camino Real Marketplace Saturday evening to share information about events such as the meteor shower. Chuck McPartlin, outreach coordinator for SBAU, brought out telescopes, star maps, and models for the public to use, and gain a better understanding of meteor showers.
Handing out informational flyers to people coming from dinner at Los Agaves or a movie, he said, “Meteors can be seen from all over the sky, but appear to come from one constellation. That’s how they get their names.” Therefore, the Eta Aquarids comes from the constellation Aquarius.
Aquarius is the formation of stars that resembles a water jar, with Eta Aquarii being one of the brightest stars of the constellation. Since the meteors appear in a similar location in the night sky, the array of shooting stars was given the name Eta Aquarids.
For anyone interested in learning more about this, or other, meteor showers, SBAU coordinates ‘Telescope Tuesdays’ at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. Astronomists give free advice on where to see stars, what to look for in the sky, and how these astronomical events came to be.
Overall, International Astronomy Day is a reminder of the infinite processes happening around the Earth and of the scale of these processes that continue, unrelenting, for millions and millions of years. If you go out to see the stars this Thursday night, in honor of both International Astronomy Day and Star Wars, “may the fourth be with you.”