constellations aquarius

The ETA Aquarids

When the earth’s orbit crosses the path of a comet – even one that flew through the solar system centuries ago – meteoroids ejected from the icy rock surface of the comet collide with the earth’s atmosphere causing meteor showers to light up the sky.

comet clipartThe Eta Aquarids originate near the northern boundary of Aquarius and speed through the atmosphere at a rate of 1-2 per hour from late April to mid-May each year. They’re visible in regions near the equator just before sunrise.

The source of the Eta Aquarids (and the Orionids that happen in late October) is Halley’s comet, a mass of ice and rock 15 km wide that zips through the solar system once every 75 years.

image of ngc 7089
Aquarius NGC 6981 M72

Open star clusters have been studied for centuries, mostly because they are so bright they can be seen from earth with even low powered viewing equipment. Within Aquarius are the M2 and M72 star clusters.

“Planetary” Nebula

A planetary nebula has nothing to do with planets at all. They’re the end result of a star’s evolution, when a giant fades into a small neutron star, emitting a nebula of colorful gas and stellar debris. To astronomers in the 1780’s these mysterious deep sky objects resembled small, colorful planets.

Aquarius Saturn Nebula
Aquarius Helix Nebula
  • The Saturn Nebula glows green, blue and yellow at an estimated 5,200 light years from earth. Scientists estimate that it spent millions of years as a white or blue main sequence star before releasing it’s gaseous material into the surrounding atmosphere. This colorful nebula was discovered in the 1780’s
  • The Helix Nebula is approximately 10,500 years, meaning that from an astronomical perspective this planetary nebula is practically in it’s infancy. This expanding cloud of stellar dust and debris is only 700 light years from earth