I hope you all are enjoying the warm summer nights and getting some good star gazing in (sorry southern hemisphere friends your time will come soon!). I have a special treat on tap for you this month (well, I don’t but mother nature does); the Delta Aquariids are here!! These faint/non fireball/unimpressive meteors might not have you running outside, but summer is the perfect season to sit out and enjoy the night sky. So why not try to also catch some mediocre meteors while you are at it? In all seriousness, meteor showers are the perfect way to get familiar with the sky so grab some cool drinks, lie back, and watch the very far from static night sky. Lastly, to my friends to the South, I hope you didn’t dip out because this shower is actually most visible to you… just don’t get too chilly down there!!!
WHEN is it?
The meteor shower officially began on July 12th but the “peak” doesn’t start until the 29th. I say “peak” because the Delta Aquarids are pretty notorious for not having a definite peak (goes with the status of being unimpressive). Since they aren’t much more prolific (about 10-20 meteors per hour) than they are on the other nights; you can consider the party not over until the official end, August 23rd (but if you are curious the technical peak end is July 30th). On the bright side, you don’t have to worry about missing the shower because your city happens to have gross weather on the peak days! The catch with the Delta Aquarids is that they are fairly faint meteors so it is more imperative to search for meteors in a dark location; the Moon’s light can easily wash out many of the streaks you are searching for. You can look up Moon set and rise times here for any particular day. You should also try to travel to a dark location with limited light pollution: to find a dark sky near you check out my light pollution guide. Try to watch for these meteors around 2am to dawn when they are highest in the sky.
WHERE should you look?
Like most meteor showers the Delta Aquarids are named after the constellation they radiated from, Aquarius. However, this meteor shower is named after the particular star it radiates from Delta Aquarii, aka Skat, to differentiate it from the earlier shower this season the Eta Aquarids which radiate from a different star within the same constellation. Now if you are not that confident with constellations, you can use an app (like the one I suggested). Pick the star Skat and use the app to figure out where the constellation is. You can even figure out when it rises and sets. If you use the app I do, make sure you turn on sky object trajectories and use that as a guide for where the star (or constellation) will be at what time. It should be on automatically but in case it is not, it is the button on the upper right of the settings (as shown on the right). Because this is a southern constellation, the farther south you live the more time it will be in the sky and the higher in the sky it will be. To my Northern Hemisphere folks, you may still be able to see some if you live close to the tropics. Remember to look around; these meteors will stay close to their radiant point but it can get frustrating focusing on one place for too long. A fun task is to try to find the meteors with tails… about 5-10 percent of Delta Aquarids have persistent trains aka a lingering tail.
WHAT are the meteors made of?
Meteors are not actually shooting stars but burning pieces of space debris that come into Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers come from where there are heavy amounts of that debris in certain spots. This is usually a comet (sometimes an asteroid) that crosses Earth’s path and in doing so leaves some scraps. The Delta Aquarids parent comet is up for debate. It was believed to be the remains of the breakups of Marsden and Kracht Sungrazing comets, but more recently the theory is that the Delta Aquarids are leftovers from the Comet 96P Machholz which has an orbital period of only about 5.2 years. Whatever its origins, the Delta Aquarids makes for a long steady show well beyond the fifth act.
As usual, to celebrate the meteor shower, Slooh will be hosting a live stream so you can get awesome viewing conditions from the comfort of your own home! For those of you who want to experience the shower from your couch, you can catch the stream on July 28th at 8:00 pm EST (00:00 UTC 29/7) here.
NEXT ON THE LINEUP: The Perseids August 11-13th. The Perseids are Northerners’ best chance to catch meteors during the Summer so be READY.
side note: I apologize for all the saltiness… trying to find public domain images for these fainter showers IS THE WORST… well not the worst but very hard :/