The best meteor shower of the summer peaks this Sunday and Monday thanks to July's 'Old Moon.'
If you see a shooting star from mid-July through late-August, the chances are that it comes from the direction of the constellation of Aquarius, the Water Bearer. However, if you want to make sure you see one of these rather special summer shooting stars, head outside on July 28 and look towards the southern sky. You might just see a fireball.
Although this annual meteor shower stretches from around July 12 through Aug. 23 every year, it peaks in 2019 on July 28. However, a day or so either side will afford you views that are almost as good.
The reason that the Delta Aquarids meteor shower is expected to be so good this year is mainly down to the moon. Just a few days later, on Aug. 1, there’s a New Moon, which means that the last few days of July will see a very late rising moon. So there will be no significant moonlight to interfere with the celestial show.
Another reason for looking out for the Delta Aquarids is that the Perseids, normally the most reliable meteor shower of the year in mid-August, is this year going to be washed-out by a full moon.
There are some standard tactics to getting the best from all meteor showers. The first is to go outside after midnight. As dark as sky as possible, away from streetlights, is essential for seeing shooting stars, particularly at this time of year when the nights are short in the northern hemisphere. It’s also helpful to look in the middle of the night, when your location is firmly in the night side of Earth as the planet is busting through the dust and debris stream that causes the shooting stars.
However, the Delta Aquariids are best viewed in the southern hemisphere and southern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
If it’s warm enough, the best way is just to lay on a blanket and watch the sky, remembering not to look at your phone. Doing so will mean your phone’s white light ruining your night vision, which won’t return for 20 minutes.
You can expect to see up to 20 shooting stars per hour during the peak of the Delta Aquarids meteor shower, each moving around 25 miles per second. They’re thought to be caused by the leftovers a comet called 96P/Machholz. That comet completes an orbit around the Sun roughly every five years (most recently in 2017, and next in 2023) and gets within 11 million miles of our star. That’s really, really close, and means that it tends to shed streams of dust and debris, which Earth then routinely bumps into during its own orbit of the Sun. Comet 96P/Machholz’s nucleus is about 4 miles/6.4 km across according to NASA, which is about half the size of the object that’s thought to have smashed into Earth and led to the demise of the dinosaurs.
Since the constellation of Aquarius (and, more specifically, the star Delta, the third brightest star within that, which this meteor shower is named after) is low in the southern sky as seen from the northern hemisphere, it’s best to look generally to the south. Aquarius is what’s know by astronomers as the “radiant point” of the meteors, though shootings stars can appear anywhere in the sky. However, try to trace them back to their origin and you’ll always reach Aquarius.