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Go someplace dark and watch meteors!

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 at its peak. The Perseids are gearing up even now, so if you go outside between midnight and dawn tonight or this weekend, you might see some. But there’s another meteor shower happening now, too. It’s the Delta Aquarid meteor shower.

The Delta Aquarids don’t have as definite a peak as the Perseids. Instead, the shower produces a steady supply of meteors for some weeks in late July and early August. Tonight – or this weekend – are good times to watch because the moon is in a waxing crescent phase. That means the moon now sets in early evening. In other words, we have deliciously dark skies for watching the Delta Aquarids, which are at their best in dark hours before dawn.

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

These meteors are beautiful! See the photo above? Kelly Dreller in Lake Havasu City, Arizona caught this meteor in late July of 2016.

Tonight, or this weekend – under a dark sky, between midnight and dawn – you might see as many as 10 to 15 meteors per hour. Most will be somewhat faint, so be sure to find a dark sky!

Radiant point of Delta Aquarid meteor shower. Click here for a post on how to find it in your sky. The Delta Aquarid radiant point is close to the ecliptic, or sun’s path across our sky. If you trace the paths of a Delta Aquarid meteor backwards, you’d find the star Delta Aquarii – also called Skat – nearly coinciding with the radiant.

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.

Radiant point of Perseid meteor shower. You can tell a Perseid meteor from a Delta Aquarid, because the showers have 2 different radiant points; in other words, the meteors radiate from 2 different directions in the sky. Here’s the Perseid radiant, rising in the northeast around midnight.

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 be bright in the hours after midnight.

You can try watching the Perseids in moonlight. You’ll definitely see a few of the brighter ones, if you do. But late July/early August might be a better time to watch meteors in 2017, before 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 and edging into the post-midnight sky.

Meanwhile, the Delta Aquarids will be raining down steadily, night after night.

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 Time), but the radiant soars way higher in the Southern Hemisphere than at comparable latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Outside on the evening of July 27, and notice a bright “star” near the moon? It’s not a star. It’s the planet Jupiter. The moon and Jupiter will be even closer on July 28. The nearby bright star is Spica in the constellation Virgo the Maiden.

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.

EarthSky astronomy kits are perfect for beginners. Order yours today.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2017

Bruce McClure

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