The Delta Aquariid meteor shower may not be spectacular but it’s a favorite among stargazers.
On the one hand, the shower doesn’t produce as many meteors as others, and since they travel a little slower, they don’t appear to streak across the night sky either. Then again, since the Delta Aquariids will be visible through August 21, the warm summer nights make for comfortable stargazing.
This year, the Delta Aquariid meteor shower is expected to peak late on July 29 and early on July 30. If conditions are favorable, you can expect to see around 20 meteors per hour, according to EarthSky.
Where Meteors Come From
Meteors — which NASA calls “cosmic snowballs” of frozen gas, rock, and dust — are typically the size of a small town. They originate outside the orbit of the outermost planets, then follow an elliptical orbit around the Sun.
When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, its ice begins to change from a solid to a gas. This produces what’s known as a “coma,” or the fuzzy-shaped cloud surrounding the ball of ice. The coma can be thousands of miles in diameter.
Next, radiation pressure from the Sun — or solar wind — “blows” the expanding coma out to form the long tail that gives comets their distinctive shape.
As comets’ ice melts, they also leave behind a debris trail. Then, every year, when Earth passes through these debris trails on its own orbit around the Sun, the debris particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, the particles disintegrate, creating streaks across the sky.
The Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower
Scientists at NASA aren’t certain, but it’s generally believed that the Delta Aquariid meteors are caused by debris left behind by a comet known as 96P Machholz, which was discovered by Donald Machholz in 1986. While the comet completes its orbit around the Sun every 5.3 years, research seems to indicate that the debris causing the Delta Aquariid meteor shower was left by Comet 96P Machholz around 20,000 years ago, EarthSky notes.
Meteor showers, however, get their names from the meteors’ radiant — where they appear to come from in the night sky. In this case, the meteors appear to come from the constellation Aquarius. That constellation’s third-brightest star is called Delta.
So, by combining the name of the constellation and the name of that star, the result is “Delta Aquariids,” NASA explains.
How To Watch The Meteor Shower
Watching the Delta Aquariid meteor shower, like any other meteor shower, will be easy.
First, go outside and lie down on your back or recline in a chair. Then, look up at the night sky. After about 30 minutes, your eyes will adjust to the darkness and you will begin to see meteors.
It should be noted though that the Delta Aquariids generally aren’t as bright as some other meteor showers.
With that in mind, to increase your chances of seeing the meteor shower, you’ll want to be somewhere really dark — far away from city light — so you can see the night sky more clearly. You can use this map of dark places to find spots that are optimal for stargazing.
The best time to see the meteor shower’s peak will be in the early morning hours rather than when the nearly full Moon will be high and bright in the sky. Specifically, the optimal time will be around 1:45 a.m. on July 30, according to Space.com.
Finally, since the Delta Aquariids will continue through August 21, you’ll have plenty of other chances to look for meteors during early Moon-free mornings. Just keep in mind that you won’t see as many of the meteors after the shower’s peak.
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