Dark Sky Park: The Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

May 3, 2013

IPR: The most well-known meteor shower of the year has to be the Perseid Meteor Shower in August. What are some other meteor showers that are notable this year?

Mary: This year and, in fact, this weekend, the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower is expected to be very favorable. The shower peaks on the morning of May 5 but can be seen before dawn May 4, 5 and 6.

IPR: How are Meteor shower's named?

Mary: If you follow the trails of a meteors backward to the place where they seem to begin you would see that they emanate from a specific location. This location is called the 'radiant'. The meteor shower is then named for the star closest to the radiant. In this case, it's the star Eta Aquarii, which is sometimes referred to the name "Hydria," which means water pot. This star is one of three that makes up the triangular-shaped water pot in the constellation Aquarius. Eta Aquarii means it's the 7th brightest star in the constellation.

IPR: Is there a significant story or mythology related to this star or to this meteor shower?

Mary: There is a story told from India about "The Cracked Pot" which I like, because of its message, and because it connects with the streams of water flowing from the water pot of Aquarius: "The Cracked Pot." 

Once upon a time there was a man whose job was to bring water from the stream to his Master's house. The man carried the water from the stream in two clay pots. He hung the pots on each end of a pole, which he carried across his shoulders, to and from the stream many times a day.

One of the clay pots was perfect in every way for its purpose. The other pot was exactly like the first one, but it had a crack in it and it leaked. When the water bearer reached his Master's house, the perfect pot was always full, and the cracked pot was always half full.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, and it boasted loudly. It criticized the cracked pot for its failures, and reminded it that despite his efforts, the water bearer could only deliver half a pot of water due to his cracks. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfections, and was miserable that it could only accomplish half of what it was supposed to do. One day the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer. "I want to apologize to you. Because of my cracked side I've only been able to deliver half of the water to your Master's home, and you don't get the full value from your efforts."

The water bearer smiled on the cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the Master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."

Indeed as they climbed the path from the river to the Master's mansion the cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful flowers along one side of the path, and it felt somewhat brighter. But when they reached their destination and the water in the half-empty pot was poured out, his sadness returned. "Thank you for trying to cheer me up with the beautiful flowers, water bearer," The pot spoke. " But I still must apologize for my failure."

The water bearer said, "Dear pot, you haven't understood what I was trying to show you. Did you notice that the flowers only grew on your side of the path? That's because of your crack. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and everyday as we walked from the stream the water that leaks from your pot has watered them. I could have got a new pot, but I preferred to gather the flowers, and with them to bless many tables."