And as it turns out, the orbit of Halley's Comet closely approaches the Earth's orbit at two places. One point is in the middle to latter part of October, producing a meteor display known as the Orionids. The other point comes in the early part of May, producing the Eta Aquarids.
Under ideal conditions (a dark, moonless sky) about 30 to 60 of these very swift meteors might be seen per hour at the peak of the display on May 6. The shower appears at about one-quarter peak strength for several days before and after May 6.
The radiant (the emanation point of these meteors) is within the "Water Jar" of the constellation Aquarius, which begins to rise above the eastern horizon around 3 a.m.
So, if you're hoping to see up to 60 meteors per hour, forget it; with the radiant so low above the horizon, the majority of those meteors will be streaking below the horizon and out of your view. .
In fact, from North America, typical Eta Aquarid rates are only 10 meteors per hour at 26 degrees north latitude (Miami, Florida or Brownsville, Texas), five per hour at around 35 degrees latitude (Los Angeles or Cape Hatteras, North Carolina) and practically zero to the north of 40 degrees (New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia). .
So, you might ask, "What's the point of getting up before dawn to watch?" The answer is you might still see something spectacular. .
Meteor watchers call such shooting stars "Earthgrazers." They leave colorful, long-lasting trails which are extremely long and tend to hug the horizon rather than shooting overhead.
They are also rarely numerous, but if you are fortunate to catch sight of only one or two it will make getting up and heading outside before the first light of dawn well worthwhile. .
So it is that the shooting stars that we have come to call the Eta Aquarids are really an encounter with the traces of a famous visitor from the depths of space and from the dawn of creation