Eta Aquariids meteor shower visible early Sunday

An Eta Aquarid meteor streaks across the sky. Photo: David Kingham.

Stargazers with a clear view to the east will be in luck early on Sunday morning as two spectacular night sky events combine.

A "flukey" coincidence means an annual meteor shower is due to light up almost the exact spot where four planets are aligning close together.

A meteor shower early on Sunday morning may be viewable from coastal areas around the Bay of Plenty, says a Metservice meteorologist.

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which originates from Halley's Comet is visible in the southern constellation Aquarius.

Halley's Comet comes through our solar system every 75 or 76 years, but its debris trail remains persistent. The trail shifts over the years due to gravitational influences of the planets, meaning the Earth may run through more or fewer meteors in a particular year depending on how thick the debris is in our orbital zone.

The area from Gisborne to Wairarapa is expected to be a good viewing spot for a meteor shower early tomorrow morning.

The Eta Aquariids meteor shower should be visible from about 2am until sunrise.

At the same time, planets Saturn, Mars, Venus and Jupiter will be aligned and visible in the same area of the sky - a rare occurrence itself.

Metservice meteorologist Mmathapelo Makgabutlane says forecasts show the clearest skies between Wairarapa and Gisborne.

"And parts of the Bay of Plenty, especially coastal areas, could be lucky with periods of clear skies as well.

"The rest of the North Island also has a better chance than the South Island."

Astronomer Josh Aoraki says the best viewing time will be about 5.30am Sunday - and up to about 20 to 40 meteors could be seen an hour.

The meteor shower is caused by earth's passing through the trail of dust and ice left by Haley's Comet and is named as such because it appears every year in the constellation of Aquarius

The best time to view it will be from 3am to 6am, with Jupiter and Venus set to rise about 5am.

Casual viewers could consider themselves happy if they see six meteors in half an hour, says Director of Napier's Holt Planetarium Gary Sparks.

The International Space Station has also been busy making a pass over New Zealand today - and sending back snapshots on social media.

The Tauranga Astronomical Society have opened their observatory this evening so that families can come down and view the Moon through their various telescopes.

The Moon's craters are easily visible and as an added bonus, the International Space Station passed overhead about 7pm.

The Tauranga Astronomical Society observatory is located in the Otumoetai Sports & Recreation Club building in Fergusson Park, Matua.

Their regular public meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from February to November at 7.30 pm. Presentations are given on current astronomical topics. All those interested in astronomy in the Bay of Plenty are invited to attend. For more information click on their Facebook page or go to their website  http://tas.org.nz/




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