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Go someplace dark! Meteors this weekend and in coming weeks

Radiant point of Delta Aquarid meteor shower

Tonight for July 25, 2014

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 2014, though, the year’s largest supermoon on August 10 will interfere with the peak dates of the Perseid shower (the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13). But never fear. The Perseids rise to a peak gradually, and 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.

The absence of the moon around now – the Delta Aquarid shower – and the fact that the Perseids are now rising to a peak – are why the last week of July and the first several days of August, in the hours before dawn, are the best time in 2014 to watch N. Hemisphere summertime meteors.

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 2014, first quarter moon comes on August 3. A first quarter moon sets around midnight (1 a.m. daylight time). After first quarter, the moon will continue to wax larger and set later. It’ll begin washing the predawn sky with its light. So – for dark-sky meteor-watching before dawn – try any night between now and, say, August 5 or 6. Here’s a custom sunrise/set calendar (check the moonrise/set box).

Yes, you can watch from the S. Hemisphere, too! The Delta Aquarids, especially, are a good shower for you.

As the moon waxes larger, will you be able to see meteors in moonlight? Yes, but not as many.

Composite image of Perseid meteor shower taken morning of August 13, 2013 in Mersing, Malaysia. Andromeda Galaxy is also visible in the top right corner.  Image created by our friend Justin NG in Mersing, Malaysia.  Thank you, Justin!

Composite image of Perseid meteor shower taken morning of August 13, 2013 in Mersing, Malaysia. Andromeda Galaxy is also visible in the top right corner. Image created by our friend Justin NG in Mersing, Malaysia. Thank you, Justin!

Another reason we in this 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 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!

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EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

Out watching meteors? Check out the planets, too