National Geographic
Menu

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.  Credit: NASA
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.

Comments

  1. Lindita Sirena Chavez
    La Ceiba,Honduras
    July 30, 9:32 am

    I was looking up meteior showers lyesterday, but google didn’t show National Geographic so i stayed in bed…I got up this morning thinking “National Geographic” And, yes there it all was with the complete, simple instructions for viewing!This was my favorite magazine as a child, and now 55 years later, i’ve discovered you again! I’ll be out there tonight and I’ll look first to National Geographic for any future reference in my investigations on the internet!And, i thoroughly enjoyed the incredible nature pictures you are famous for and will continue to make that part of my routine. Thank you National Geographic!

  2. milutin
    Serbia,Krusevac
    July 28, 1:55 pm

    when to watch at my location:date,time direction(N,E,S,W)

  3. Roberto Aguayo Serrano
    Aguascalientes, México
    July 28, 8:17 am

    Interesante. Me hace entender lo pequeños que somos ante la magnitud del universo y sus manifestaciones.

  4. Laurence Oko
    Nigeria, Africa
    July 26, 2:51 pm

    †нªηкs a bunch mr Andrew, I should have missed this grand show which actually stares my deepest desire. Am just a Naked-Eye-Astronomer who prays for a cloudless sky ση this day. Keep this exploration in swing. Catch ya ση twitter…….