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Friday, May 06, 2011


Mothers Day Morning Sky Spectacular (May 8th, 2011)

In Australia Mothers Day Falls on Sunday May the 8th. This year this coincides with the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower and the conjunction of Mercy and Venus in the morning sky. What says "I love you Mum" more than getting her up at 3:30 am to watch meteors flash across the sky and bright planets rise?

Morning sky looking east as seen from Adelaide at 6:00 am local time on Sunday May 8 showing Venus near Mercury with Jupiter and Mars. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time. Click to embiggen.

If you have been following the planet dance (see here, here and here) in the morning you will have been watching Venus and Mercury close in on each other.

This cumulates this Sunday with Venus and Mercury at their closest (although they remain close for a couple of weeks thereafter) forming a beautiful sky pattern. The symbolism of the Planet named for the goddess of love being near the planet named for the messenger of the Gods would seem to be appropriate for Mothers Day.

You don't need anything special to see this line-up, just wander out somewhere between 5:45 and 6:15 and look east, and planets will be there in all their glory. Of course, if you get up earlier you can see the Eta Aquairid Meteor shower as well.

Eastern horizon around 4 am local time on May 8. The red cross shows the location of the apparent origin of the Eta Aquariid meteors (the radiant). Click to embiggen.

On the mornings of Saturday May 7 and Monday May 8 the Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaks. You can see meteors before or after this time but the numbers will be less (see the meteor flux estimator below).

People in the suburbs should see a meteor around once every 6 minutes, and in the country about once every 3 minutes, from between 4 am to 5 am.

When looking, be sure to let your eyes adjust for at least 5 minutes so your eyes can be properly adapted to the dark. Don't look directly at the radiant site, because the meteors will often start their "burn" some distance from it, but around a handspan up or to the side. Be patient, although you should see an average of a meteor every six to three minutes, a whole stretch of time can go by without a meteor, then a whole bunch turn up one after the other.

Make yourself comfortable, choose an observing site that has little to obstruct the eastern horizon, have a comfortable chair to sit in (a banana lounger is best), or blankets and pillows. A hot Thermos 0f something to drink (or maybe some Mothers Day chocolates) and plenty of mosquito protection will complete your observing preparations. As well as meteors, keep an eye out for satellites (see Heavens Above for predictions from your site). At least in Adelaide, we get a nice Iridium flare during the meteor peak.

The sky will also be particularly beautiful, with the Milky Way stretching over the sky and constellation of Scorpius gracing the north-western sky. As well the conjunction of Venus and Mercury rising in the east with Jupiter and Mars below it.

Use the NASA meteor shower flux estimator for an estimate of what the shower will be like from your location. You need to choose 31 Eta Aquariids and remember to set the date to 6-7 or 7-8 May 2011. You can follow the progress of the shower ath the IMO live Aquariid site.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.

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