As the Earth revolves around the sun, it encounters the unbalanced orbit of a comet, whose icy surface leaves behind dust and rocks as they evaporate from the sun’s heat. When these space rocks fall into our atmosphere, “the resistance – or drag – of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot,” according to NASA. “What we are seeing is a ‘shooting star.’ This luminous trail is not actually rock, but rather hot air shining as hot rock passes through the atmosphere. When Earth encounters several meteors at once, we call it a meteor shower. ”
Likely to have originated from Comet 96P Machholz, the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower occurs annually between July 12 and August 23. This year, it culminates in the nights of July 28 and 29. The Alpha Capricornids, a weaker meteor shower, also peak on those same nights. Known to emit brilliant fireballs at their peak, the Alpha Capricornids will be visible to everyone.
The Delta Aquariids meteor shower can be best seen by people in the southern hemisphere. Meteors, which tend to number 10 to 20 per hour and fly at 25 miles per second, are most visible between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. in all time zones, when the weak constellation Aquarius on water carrier – the radiating point of the shower – is highest in the sky, according to EarthSky.
If you go out for about 30 minutes before showering, your eyes may adjust to the dark, according to NASA. For those in the southern hemisphere, the radiant is closer to the ceiling; people in the northern hemisphere should look to the southern part of the sky. You don’t need to use a telescope, and people don’t have to focus so much on the radiant points because meteors will appear in all parts of the sky, EarthSky advised.
A bright waning gibbous moon (74% full) will obscure some of the meteor shower this week, making sighting in an area with little or no light pollution – such as buildings and traffic – critical. But in early August, 13% full moon (a crescent moon crescent) will make it easier to visualize meteors even if they are off peak.
A dazzling talent show
Dark skies are also important if you want to see the Delta Aquariids cross paths with the Perseid meteor shower. Perseid, the most popular shower of the year, comes from a different light point, is brighter than the Delta Aquariids, and peaks in the early morning hours of August 11-13.
While understanding and observing radiation points is not crucial to visualizing delta aquariids, it is necessary to distinguish between delta aquariids and Perseid rain in August, according to EarthSky.
While the Delta Aquariids radiate near the constellation Aquarius, the Perseids fly from the constellation Perseus, which is in the northeastern part of the sky. So if you’re in the northern hemisphere, meteors appearing from the northeast are Perseids, while meteors coming in from the south are Delta Aquariids, according to EarthSky.
There are more meteor showers than you can catch during the rest of 2021, according to EarthSky’s 2021 Meteor Showers guide:
- October 8: Draconids
- October 21: Orionides
- November 4-5: Southern Taurids
- November 11-12: Taurides du Nord
- November 17: Leonids
- December 13-14: Geminids
- December 22: Ursides
CNN’s Sarah Molano and Ashley Strickland contributed to this story.
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