Astronomy Essentials

Delta Aquariid meteor shower: All you need to know in 2024

Meteor shower chart: Star chart with radial arrows from a spot below Great Square of Pegasus and above Fomalhaut.
The radiant point for the Delta Aquariids is near the faint star Skat, or Delta Aquarii. It rises in mid-evening, is highest around 2 a.m. and low in the sky by dawn. Use the bright nearby star Fomalhaut to guide you to the Delta Aquariid radiant point. Find Fomalhaut by drawing a line southward through the stars on the west side of the Great Square of Pegasus. This chart shows a wide area, from overhead to southward, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. From the Southern Hemisphere, the radiant is closer to overhead.

Every year, 2 meteor showers – the famous Perseids and the lesser known Delta Aquariids – converge in late summer. The Delta Aquariids always peak in late July – but in 2024 – the waning gibbous and last quarter moon will light up the sky past midnight. So, the best time to watch for both Delta Aquariids and Perseidsis is before the moon rises in late July.

Predicted peak: The peak is predicted** for July 30, 2024, at 15:16 UTC. But this shower doesn’t have a noticeable peak. It rambles along steadily from late July through early August, joining forces with the August Perseids.
When to watch: Watch late July through early August, mid-evening to dawn.
Duration of shower: July 18 to August 21.
Radiant: Rises in mid-evening, highest around 2 a.m. and low in the sky by dawn. See chart below.
Nearest moon phase: In 2024, last quarter moon falls at 2:52 UTC on July 28. Take advantage of the moon-free evenings – around midnight – in late July for watching the Delta Aquariids (and the early Perseids).
Expected meteors at peak, under ideal conditions: The Delta Aquariids’ maximum hourly rate can reach 15 to 20 meteors in a dark sky with no moon. You’ll typically see plenty of Delta Aquariids mixed in with the Perseids, if you’re watching in early August.
Note: Like May’s Eta Aquariids, July’s Delta Aquariids favors the Southern Hemisphere. Skywatchers at high northern latitudes tend to discount it. But the shower can be excellent from latitudes like those in the southern U.S. Delta Aquariid meteors tend to be fainter than Perseid meteors. So a moon-free dark sky is essential. About 5% to 10% of the Delta Aquariid meteors leave persistent trains, glowing ionized gas trails that last a second or two after the meteor has passed.

Report a fireball (very bright meteor) to the American Meteor Society: it’s fun and easy!

The Delta Aquariid’s parent comet

From the late, great Don Machholz,(1952-2022), who discovered 12 comets…

The Delta Aquariid meteor shower’s parent comet comes from the 96P/Machholz Complex.

The 96P/Machholz Complex is a collection of eight meteor showers, including the Delta Aquariids, plus two comet groups (Marsden and Kracht), and at least one asteroid (2003 EH1). These meteors showers, and these comets, appear to share a common origin (although they’ve now diverged slightly in their orbits around the sun).

They are all related to the comet known as 96P/Machholz, which I discovered on May 12, 1986, from Loma Prieta Mountain in California.

At discovery, the comet was magnitude 10 and 2 degrees south of the Andromeda galaxy. I was using my 6-inch homemade binoculars for this find. Read the story of the discovery.

As a matter of fact, scientists had suspected the existence of the 96P/Machholz Complex in 2003. Finally, they fully described it in 2005, after conducting more studies.

Comet 96P/Machholz orbits the sun every 5.3 years and gets eight times closer to the sun than we are. That is, its perihelion distance is 0.12 astronomical units (AU). One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun. So this comet comes well inside the orbit of Mercury. Over the course of 4,000 years, the comet’s orbit changes in shape and tilt, so that it leaves particles throughout the inner solar system. It gets around!

A recent study suggests that the material causing the Delta Aquariid meteor shower left the comet’s nucleus about 20,000 years ago. It’s old dust streaking across our skies.

Starry background, largish bright dot with 2 long, bright, fuzzy tails.
The late, great Don Machholz discovered comet 96P Machholz, the parent of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower, on May 12, 1986. This 2007 image is from the HI-2 camera of the STEREO-A spacecraft. Image via NASA/ Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Perseid? Or Delta Aquariid?

Perseid and Delta Aquariid meteors fly in our skies at the same time of year. How can you tell them apart? This is where the concept of a radiant point comes in handy. If you trace all the Delta Aquariid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from a certain point in front of the constellation Aquarius, which, as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, arcs across the southern sky.

Meanwhile, the Perseids radiate from the constellation Perseus, in the northeast to high in the north between midnight and dawn as seen in Northern Hemisphere skies.

So – assuming you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and watching around midnight or after – if you’re watching the Perseids and you see meteors coming from the northeast or north … they are Perseids. If you see them coming from the south … they are Delta Aquariids. In a particularly rich year for meteors, if you have a dark sky, you might even see them cross paths!

Consequently, it can be an awesome display.

Delta Aquariid meteor shower photos from the EarthSky community

Submit your night sky photos to EarthSky here

Several thin bright lines in a dark starry sky abpve silhouetted hills.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Bass Seckin in Bursa, Turkey, captured these meteors on July 29, 2020, and wrote: “Bursa is 3 million populated city located in northwestern Turkey. It’s almost impossible to see meteors there … I went 100 kilometers (60 miles) out eastward for excluding light pollution. Interestingly I had seen only one or two meteors with unaided eye, but when checked frames I have seen that there were 4 to 6 meteors on single frame. The reddish spot at the center of the image is Mars, and Delta Aquariids meteors’ traces are from upper right corner toward bottom.” Thank you, Bass!
Slash of white light alongside Milky Way in densely starry sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | James Reynolds in Asheville, North Carolina, captured this photo of a meteor on August 11, 2021. He wrote: “I am unsure whether this is a Perseid or a Delta Aquariid, but it is the second largest meteor I’ve captured an image of (first being what became an EarthSky photo of the day from last year’s Leonid meteor shower). You can see some clouds in this image, and they are going to get thicker where I am over the next few days, so I am glad I spent an hour outside early this morning to observe and photograph the meteor shower, and particularly grateful for this little gift from the universe.” Thank you, James!

Bottom line: The peak of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower is late July. But the shower rambles along steadily in late July and August, intermingling with the Perseids. In 2024, watch in the moon-free evenings – around midnight – of late July to avoid moonlight.

**Predicted peak times and dates for 2024 meteor showers are from the American Meteor Society. Note that meteor shower peak times can vary.

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

Meteor showers: Tips for watching the show

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide

July 25, 2024
Astronomy Essentials

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