Watch What Could Be This Summer’s Best Meteor Shower

The late July Delta Aquarids may outperform the more famous August Perseids this year thanks to a moonless sky. Courtesy NASA

Keep your eyes  turned to the skies for some upcoming cosmic fireworks, as the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks.

Often considered the cosmic consolation prize to August’s iconic Perseid meteor shower, the Aquarids meteors may actually outperform their more famous celestial cousins this year, since they peak under moonless skies, on Tuesday, July 29. The Perseids, unfortunately, will likely underwhelm under the bright glare of the full moon in mid-August.

With the moon officially in the new phase on July 26, and pretty much out of the way the following days, ideal observing conditions should allow sky-watchers (away from bright city lights) to catch as many as 15 to 20 meteors per hour at peak time during the predawn hours on Tuesday.  The Delta Aquarids are officially active from July 12  to August 23, so there is plenty of time to catch at least some of the action on a clear night.

The Delta Aquarids favor observers in southern latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and all over the Southern Hemisphere. The meteors will appear to radiate out from their namesake constellation, Aquarius, the Water Bearer.

Your eyes are all that is needed to catch the shooting stars as they zip across the overhead skies. To maximize your chances of seeing a shooting star, face the radiant of the shower, Aquarius, rising low in the southeast after local midnight.

While the constellation may be too faint to spot, you’ll know you’re looking in the right direction thanks to the nearby bright star Fomalhaut, which hangs just below Aquarius.

Delta-Aquarid meteors peak overnight on July 28/29, appearing to radiate out from the constellation Aquarius.  Courtesy Starry Night software
Delta Aquarid meteors peak overnight on July 28-29, appearing to radiate out from the constellation Aquarius. Courtesy Starry Night software

Like most meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids are caused by Earth slamming into clouds of sand-grain-size particles shed by an orbiting comet. Countless particles linger along the entire past trail of the comet, forming clumps and streams through which our planet passes regularly every year. Each particle enters the atmosphere at more than 93,000 miles per hour, burning up in a momentary streak of light.

In this case, the identity of the parent comet to this shower remains a mystery. However, some experts have pointed to Comet 96P/Machholz, discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1986.

Anyone clouded out or  trapped under the bright city lights may find shooting star salvation from live streaming webcasts showcasing the peak activity of this shower.  NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will offer views of the skies above Huntsville, Alabama, on July 29 at 9:30 p.m. EDT (01:30 UT/GMT).

If that’s not enough, astronomy-outreach venture SLOOH will have all-sky cameras at the Institute of Astrophysics, in the Canary Islands and Prescott Observatory in Arizona. Coverage will begin on Monday, July 28, starting at 10 p.m. EDT (International Times). Viewers can watch free on Slooh.com.

 

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.