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Tonight

Star Skat is near radiant for Delta Aquarid meteors

When you stand on a railroad track, you can see the illusion of tracks converging in the distance.  Likewise, the paths of meteors in a single meteor shower appear to converge at a point on the sky's dome.  This is the shower's radiant point.

When you stand on a railroad track, you can see the illusion of tracks converging in the distance. Likewise, the paths of meteors in a single meteor shower appear to converge at a point on the sky’s dome. This is the shower’s radiant point.

How to spot it, plus an explanation of why meteors in annual showers have radiant points.

Young moon and star Regulus low in west after sunset July 29

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As day ebbs into night on July 29, will you spot the young lunar crescent and the star Regulus as they make their fleeting appearance over the western horizon at dusk? From mid-northern North American latitudes, you might catch the elusive couple about 45 to 60 minutes after sunset – if you’re blessed with an unobstructed western horizon and crystal-clear skies. Binoculars may be helpful.

Nominal Delta Aquarid peak on July 29 before dawn

The Great Square of Pegasus can point you to the constellation Aquarius and the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak.

The Great Square of Pegasus can point you to the constellation Aquarius and the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower – a long, rambling shower that’ll stretch out for weeks beyond the peak – does have a nominal peak and that is predicted for the hours before dawn on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The most favorable viewing window begins about 1 a.m. (2 a.m. Daylight Saving Time) no matter where you are on Earth … through the onset of morning dawn. Although this shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, it tends to favor the more southerly latitudes. North of the equator, it’s better seen in the tropical and subtropical regions rather than farther north. This shower will combine with the more-famous Perseid meteor shower, now rising to its peak. Now is the time to watch meteors.

See Ophiuchus, 13th constellation of the Zodiac, tonight

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The faint constellation Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer appears in the southern sky at nightfall and early evening at this time of year. It descends into the southwest sky as evening deepens into late night. Ophiuchus is sometimes called the “13th” or “forgotten” constellation of the Zodiac. The sun passes in front of Ophiuchus from about November 29 to December 17. And yet no one ever says they’re born when the sun is in Ophiuchus. That’s because Ophiuchus is a constellation – not a sign – of the Zodiac.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

EarthSky Facebook friend Eileen Claffey caught this meteor on the night of July 25, 2014.  The time to start watching is now!  Thanks, Eileen.

EarthSky Facebook friend Eileen Claffey caught this meteor on the night of July 25, 2014. The time to start watching is now! Thanks, Eileen.

Don’t wait until August 11, 12 and 13 to watch the Perseids in 2014. The moon will be in the way. Start watching for meteors now!

Stars with cool names: Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali

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On July and August evenings, try finding two stars in the constellation Libra with the coolest of all star names: Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali. They’re located in between two of the sky’s brightest stars, Antares in the constellation Scorpius and Spica in the constellation Virgo. In 2014, you’ll see the golden planet Saturn shining in between these two Libra stars.

Go someplace dark! Meteors this weekend and in coming weeks

Radiant point of Delta Aquarid meteor shower

Radiant point of Delta Aquarid meteor shower

You won’t see as many meteors in late July and early August as you would if the Perseid meteor shower’s peak – around the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13 – were moon-free. But, alas, those mornings aren’t moon-free in 2014. So – with the moon gone from the sky in the morning hours – you have a window for meteor-watching right now and over the coming couple of weeks. Go for it!

Star of the week: Vega is the Harp Star

Sky princess Tanabata and her lover Kengyu, a mortal, meet on a bridge of magpies across the Celestial River. It's said they come together in this way each year on the 7th night of the 7th moon. Image by Anhellica via Lilliacerise's blog

One of the prettiest stories relating to Vega is popular in Asia, although there are many variations. In Japan, Vega is sometimes called Tanabata (or Orihime), a celestial princess or goddess. She falls in love with a mortal, Kengyu (or Hikoboshi), represented by the star Altair. But when Tanabata’s father finds out, he is enraged and forbids her to see this mere mortal. Thus the two lovers are placed in the sky, where they are separated by the Celestial River, known to us as Milky Way. Yet the sky gods are kind. Each year, on the 7th night of the 7th moon, a bridge of magpies forms across the Celestial River, and the two lovers are reunited. Sometimes Kengyu’s annual trip across the Celestial River is treacherous, though, and he doesn’t make it. In that case, Tanabata’s tears form raindrops that fall over Japan.

Many Japanese celebrations of Tanabata are held in July, but sometimes they are held in August. If it rains, the raindrops are thought to be Tanabata’s tears because Kengyu could not meet her. Sometimes the meteors of the Perseid shower are said to be Tanabata’s tears.

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

View larger. | Meteor seen at Acadia National Park during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower.  Photo from EarthSky Facebook friend Jack Fusco Photography.  See more from Jack here.

View larger. | Meteor seen at Acadia National Park during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower. Photo from EarthSky Facebook friend Jack Fusco Photography. See more from Jack here.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the annual August Perseid meteor shower probably ranks as the all-time favorite meteor shower of the year. No matter where you live worldwide, the 2014 Perseid meteor shower will probably peak on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. Unfortunately, in 2014, full moon comes on August 10. And not just any full moon, but the closest supermoon of this year. Thus, on the Perseids’ peak mornings, a big and bright waning gibbous moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors. But all is not lost! It just means you need to start observing before the shower’s peak this year. Follow the links inside to learn more.

Everything you need to know: Delta Aquarid meteor shower

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The weekend of July 25-27, 2014 – and the nights after that until the moon interferes – are great for going to a dark country location to watch the long, rambling Delta Aquarid meteor shower. The shower can be seen across the entire Earth, and sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere and northern tropics have an especially good view. The shower is officially active from about July 12 to August 23 each year. It overlaps with the more famous Perseid meteor shower in August, and those who observe the Perseids are sure to see Delta Aquarid meteors flying on the same nights. Follow the links inside to learn more.