Astronomy Essentials

Delta Aquariid meteor shower: All you need to know in 2022

Meteor shower diagram showing arrows pointing to earth from directions of sun, moon, and meteors.
The nominal peak of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower is late July. But the shower continues steadily into August. New moon falls on July 28, 2022. Then – as shown on this chart – the sun and moon are beaming down from the same direction (the moon is up during the day, leaving night skies dark for meteor-watching). Watch for the Delta Aquariids (and Perseids) in moon-free skies around midnight – when both radiants are up – in late July and early August. Chart via Guy Ottewell.

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. And the Perseids always peak around August 12 and 13. But – in 2022 – moonlight will interfere with Perseids’ peak. So we recommend you to watch in late July and early August – on multiple nights – to catch meteors in these 2 grand showers.

When to watch: Watch late July through early August, mid-evening to dawn. There’s a nominal predicted* peak on July 29, 2022. But don’t worry too much about that peak date. Delta Aquariid meteors fly for weeks!
Nearest moon phase: In 2022, new moon falls at 17:55 UTC on July 28. And full moon will fall at 1:36 UTC on August 12. Take advantage of the moon-free mornings in late July and early August for watching the Delta Aquariids (and the Perseids).
Radiant: Rises in mid-evening, highest around 2 a.m. and low in the sky by dawn.
Duration of shower: July 18 to August 21.
Expected meteors at peak, under ideal conditions: The Delta Aquariids’ maximum hourly rate can reach 20 meteors in dark skies with no moon, when the radiant is high in the sky. If you’re watching in early August, you’ll be adding that number to however many Perseids you see.
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!

Chart: Radial arrows 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.

The Delta Aquariid’s parent comet

From Don Machholz, who has 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 two 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 fuzzy tails.
EarthSky’s 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 STEREO-A spacecraft. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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

Starry sky with Milky Way visible and fuzzy bright green dot with short glowing trail near horizon.
David S. Brown caught this meteor in late July 2014, in southwest Wyoming.
Long bright diagonal line streaking among clouds.
Kelly Dreller caught this meteor in late July 2016, in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Bottom line: The nominal 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 2022, watch in late July and early August.

*Predicted peak times and dates for 2022 meteor showers are from the American Meteor Society. Note that meteor shower peak times can vary.

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

July 27, 2022
Astronomy Essentials

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