For the next month, there is a steady stream of shooting stars in your forecast! The farther south you are the better a treat this show will be. But don’t worry northerners; you can still join in on the fun.
WHEN is it?
The meteor shower officially begins today and lasts well into August. The Delta Aquarids are pretty unusual in that they do not have a definite peak of activity. Most meteor showers have a peak that produces more meteors on one night than other nights during their season (aka the one or two nights you should plan your party). But the Delta Aquarids which peak on July 27-30 aren’t much more prolific (about 10-20 meteors per hour) than the other nights; the shower is very long winded in that respect. This is nice because 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 which is great especially for us northerners. 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 GMT 29/7) here.