Every year, people look forward to the August Perseid meteor shower. And it’s wonderful, with regular rates of about 60 meteors per hour. In 2016, the Perseid shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors before dawn on August 12. The Perseids rise to a peak gradually, but there’s another meteor shower going on around now, too. The Delta Aquarid shower – whose radiant point is shown on the chart above – doesn’t have as definite a peak as the Perseids. This shower is now producing a steady supply of meteors, which you can see in dark skies this weekend.
The delta Aquarid shower reaches its nominal peak in late July. Because the moon is waning towards new right now – and the fact that the Perseids are now rising to a peak – make late July and the first few weeks of August, in the hours before dawn, a good time to watch meteors. Because the Delta Aquarid meteors tend to be faint, they’re best observed from in a very dark, moonless sky.
When exactly should you watch? Remember two things. First, meteor showers tend to be best after midnight, with predawn often an optimum time to watch. Second, in 2016, new moon comes on August 2 and a first quarter moon on August 10. A first quarter moon sets around midnight (1 a.m. daylight-saving time). After first quarter, the moon will continue to wax larger and set later. It’ll begin washing the predawn sky with its light by around mid-August. So – for dark-sky meteor-watching before dawn – try any night between now and, say, August 12. Here’s a custom sunrise/set calendar (check the moonrise/set box).
Yes, you can watch from the South Hemisphere, too! The Delta Aquarids, especially, are a good shower for you. The Delta Aquarids fall more abundantly in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring perhaps 15 Delta Aquarid meteors per hour in an inky dark sky. All around the world, the radiant of the shower climbs highest up for the night around 2 to 3 a.m. local time (3 to 4 a.m. local daylight-saving time), but the radiant soars way higher in the Southern Hemisphere than at comparable latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.
Another reason we in the Northern Hemisphere like our late July and August meteors is simply the weather. Nights are warm now, and it’s a great time to go to a dark location for a night-long look at the heavens.
By the way, you don’t need to find a meteor shower’s radiant point to watch the shower. The radiant of a meteor shower refers to the point in the sky from which meteors appear to radiate. All you really need to watch meteors is a dark, open sky because meteors will be streaking all across the heavens. For some people, though, it’s great sport to seek out the radiant of a meteor shower. If you trace the paths of the Delta Aquarid meteors backward, you’d find the star Delta Aquarii – also called Skat – nearly coinciding with this radiant.
Our chart shows your southern sky for around 4 in the morning daylight saving time. Drawing a line through the two right-hand stars of the Great Square of Pegasus escorts you to the star Delta Aquarii. This visible yet relatively faint star shines above the brilliant star Fomalhaut. So if you have difficulty locating Delta Aquarii, Fomalhaut serves as a ballpark reference to the radiant.
Bottom line: You won’t see as many meteors in late July and early August as you will at the Perseid meteor shower’s peak dates on August 11, 12 and 13. Even so, you might see a decent sprinkling of meteors during the final weekend of July 2016!