Meteors are streaking through the sky thanks to the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower In two days, the night of July 29/30 will mark the peak of the Delta Aquarids for 2011. However, despite what most of the news media may lead you to believe, there is a lot more to the meteor shower than the night of the peak. While most news outlets only focus on the peak night, the fact is that Delta Aquarids are already blazing trails through the sky.
Unlike what may have been suggested by most non-astronomical news sources, the Delta Aquarid shower lasts for almost a month, about a week and a half on either side of the peak night. Why? The shower is caused by Earth running into a trail of space debris from a still undetermined parent object year. Think of it as a rainstorm. When driving into a rain shower, the rain does not come and go in a sudden burst. Likewise, the trail of cometary debris is the same way in that it starts very light, gets thicker until the deepest point is reached, and then starts lightening up again until the Earth passes completely through. The shower is called the Delta Aquarid because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Aquarius, specifically its ‘delta’ star.
Every July, Earth passes through the stretch of space junk, reaching the deepest concentration on the night of the 29/30th. According to some estimates, under ideal conditions (dark country skies), one can expect to see 10-15 meteors per hour come peak night. The best time to view is in the hours just before dawn as Aquarius is at its highest then, albeit still rather low in the South. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out to the country to escape suburban/urban light domes.
Fortunately, the Moon is past Third Quarter at the time of the Delta Aquarids, which is ideal as this means that the Moon will be very dim.
With astronomy always a weather-allowing pursuit, be sure to keep an eye on your local weather forecast or, for an hour-by hour cloud predictions, a local clear sky clock.
Good luck and clear skies to all.
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