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.
Don’t wait a couple of weeks for the Perseid meteor shower’s annual peak. There will be a supermoon on August 10 – not just any supermoon, but the closest supermoon this year. It’ll be bright! And it’ll interfere with the Perseid peak. So start your meteor-watching soon!
In 2014, the waxing crescent moon sets at early evening, providing for dark skies for the peak nights of the Delta Aquarid shower. The best viewing window is during the wee hours before dawn.
Unless you live in the far northern part of the globe – where there is little or no nighttime at this time of year – this shower can be seen from all around the world. From anywhere worldwide, look for the Delta Aquarid meteors to become more prevalent after midnight, especially around 2 to 4 a.m.
The Delta Aquarid shower is, at best, a modest shower, offering perhaps 15 meteors per hour. About five to ten percent of these relatively faint, medium-speed meteors leave persistent trains – glowing ionized gas trails that last a second or two after the meteor has passed.
This shower recurs annually in late July, because the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet 96P/Machholz at this time of year. The stream of debris left behind by this comet smashes into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, to burn up in our sky as Delta Aquarid meteors.
If you trace the paths of the Delta Aquarid meteors backward, they all appear to radiate from a certain point in the starry heavens – near the star Delta Aquarii (Skat). This point is called the radiant of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower. As a rule of thumb, the higher the radiant point is in your sky, the more meteors that you’re likely to see. In late July, this star climbs highest up in the sky at roughly 2:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m. daylight saving time).
But you don’t have to find the radiant point of the Delta Aquarid shower to enjoy this annual celestial attraction, for these rather faint meteors streak every which way across the starry heavens on a dark, moonless light. Fortunately, moonlight won’t obscure this year’s production. So if you’re game, find an open view of the sky away from pesky artificial lights, sprawl out comfortably on a reclining lawn chair, and watch these meteors streak the sky in the wee hours before dawn in late July and early August.
Bottom line: The nominal peak of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is July 29, in the hours before dawn. But the Delta Aquarids will still be going when the Perseids peak a couple of weeks from now. At that time, a bright supermoon will interfere with the show. So start your 2014 meteor-watching now!