The peak of the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower will be tonight on the night of July 29/30, 2011. However, despite the fact that the peak doesn’t occur until tomorrow night doesn’t men that the meteors aren’t already streaking through the sky right now. Additionally, the intervening time makes for a great opportunity to learn some observing tricks to maximize the chance of seeing meteors.
Traditionally, the Delta Aquarids are a minor meteor shower, where one can expect to see, according to most estimates, 10-15 meteors per hour. The best time to view is in the hours just before dawn as Aquarius is at its highest point in the sky at this time. In this case, ‘highest’ is a very relative term as Aquarius is rather low in the South. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out of the light polluted city/suburbs and to the country if you can. Even in the suburbs, chances are that Aquarius (and most of the meteors) will be lost in a light dome.
Fortunately, the Moon is going to be a non-issue this year as it is past Third Quarter, which means that nature’s night light won’t outshine any meteors. So, while the constellation itself is at a less than ideal placement, at least nature’s night light will be off this year for the shower.
However, even though the Delta Aquarids are not the best meteor shower, being a once a year event, why not head out to see if you can spot some meteors anyway?
So how about viewing tips?
First, plan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again. Next, grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don’t forget the bug spray!
Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10×50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? Really ambitious? Why not try photographing the meteors?
Now for weather, as astronomy is a sky-permitting pursuit, be sure to keep an eye on your local weather forecast or, for an hour by hour cloud forecast, a local clear sky clock.
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