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Go someplace dark and watch meteors!

Kelly Dreller in Lake Havasu City, Arizona caught this meteor in late July 2016.

Tonight – July 27, 2017 – and in the coming nights, treat yourself to one of nature’s spectacles. Every year, people look forward to the August Perseid meteor shower. And it’s wonderful, with regular rates of about 60 meteors per hour. But there’s another meteor shower going on around now, too. It’s the Delta Aquariid shower, whose radiant point is shown on the chart above.

The Delta Aquarids don’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 every year in late July. They’ll still be flying when the Perseids peak in August.

The moon is a waxing crescent right now, so it now sets in the evening sky. In other words, we have deliciously dark skies for watching the Delta Aquariids, which are at their best in dark hours before dawn. You might see as many as 10 to 15 rather faint meteors per hour.

Radiant point of Perseid meteor shower.  It rises in the northeast around midnight, and, after the radiant rises, you'll see many more meteors than before.

You can tell a Perseid meteor from a Delta Aquarid, because the showers have 2 different radiant points. Here’s the Perseid radiant, rising in the northeast around midnight. The Delta Aquarid radiant point is closer to the ecliptic, or sun’s path across our sky. If you trace the paths of the Delta Aquarid meteors backward, you’d find the star Delta Aquarii – also called Skat – nearly coinciding with the radiant.

The Perseid shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors on the night of August 11-12 or 12-13, 2017. However, the waning gibbous moon will obtrude on the Perseid show in 2017.

But late July/early August might be a better time to watch meteors in 2017, before the moonlight becomes too overpowering. The Perseids are known to rise to a peak gradually, so they’ll be increasing in numbers every night over the coming weeks – although, at the same time, the moon will be increasing in brilliance. Plus the Delta Aquariids will be raining down steadily, night after night.

Yes, you can watch from the South Hemisphere, too! The Delta Aquariids, especially, are a good shower for you. The Delta Aquarids fall more abundantly in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring perhaps 15 Delta Aquariid 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 Time), but the radiant soars way higher in the Southern Hemisphere than at comparable latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here’s a custom sunrise/set calendar (check the moonrise/set box).

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.

Bottom line: Given dark skies, 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 the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. But this year, in 2017, you won’t have much moon-free time for viewing the Perseids.

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EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2017

Bruce McClure

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