The Delta Aquarids Peak This Weekend – Don’t Miss The First Meteor Shower In Months

A Perseid meteor streaking across the sky over Luhasoo bog in Estonia.
Martin Mark / Wikimedia Commons/Cropped and Resized (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tonight is a big night for sky watchers as the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower is about to unfold on the night sky, treating its audience to a wonderful starry spectacle. This is the first meteor shower to grace the sky in nearly three months, so don’t miss your chance to watch the shooting stars streaking across the dark celestial canvas – especially since you can expect to see as many as 20 flashing meteors per hour, CNN is reporting.

What Are The Delta Aquarids?

One of the many annual meteor showers that light up the sky on any given year, the Delta Aquarids rain down from the heavens between July 12 and August 23. While these meteors are active for a good month and a half, the best time to spot them flying across the sky in a stunning luminous display is on their peak interval, when their rates intensify.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower follows the similarly-named Eta Aquarids, which are produced by the famous Halley’s Comet and set the sky ablaze every May. This year, the fast and bright Eta Aquarid meteors delighted stargazers with a glorious incandescent display during their peak night on May 4, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.

What Is The Source Of The Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower?

Although they share part of their name with the Eta Aquarids, the Delta Aquarids were not spawned by the same comet. In fact, the exact origin of this meteor shower is unknown. According to NASA, it is believed that the beaming meteors may have been produced by a short period comet known as 96P/Machholz, which zips around the sun every five years.

Comet 96P/Machholz as captured by the HI-2 camera on NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft on April 4, 2007.
Comet 96P/Machholz as captured by the HI-2 camera on NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft on April 4, 2007. self-made / Wikimedia Commons

Each time the icy body ventures close to the sun as it follows its orbital path around our star, its sheds tiny bits of debris – small pieces of rock and dust that become dislodged as the sun’s glare heats up the comet’s gas and melts their icy encasement. Snagged by Earth’s upper atmosphere, the Delta Aquarids ignite in the night sky as shooting stars, producing the much-awaited July meteor shower, explains NASA.

“Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.”

Just like the Eta Aquarids, the Delta Aquarids get their name from the constellation of Aquarius (“The Water Bearer”). Visible in the southern sky, the constellation acts as the radiant of these meteors – or the point in the sky from where the Delta Aquarids seem to radiate. To differentiate between the two meteor showers, the shooting stars of July have been named after the constellation’s third-brightest star, Delta, also known as Skat.

A Geminid meteor.
A Geminid meteor. Jimmy Westlake / NASA

When To Catch The 2019 Delta Aquarids

Unlike most annual meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids don’t have a clearly defined peak. As Earth Sky points out, the nominal peak interval for these slow, faint meteors is set between July 27 and July 30. This places their peak time over the course of this weekend.

The good news is that the Delta Aquarid meteor shower can be enjoyed all over the globe. Nevertheless, due to the placement of their radiant – the Aquarius constellation sprawls its stars on the southern sky – the Delta Aquarids favor the Southern Hemisphere and tropical latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

A Perseid meteor photographed in Joshua Tree National Park.
A Perseid meteor photographed in Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree National Park / Wikimedia Commons/Resized

Regardless of where you are in the world, you still stand a pretty good chance of catching a glimpse of the traveling meteors as they cruise across the sky at 25 miles per second. The ideal time to head out and take in the light show will be around 3 a.m. ET on Sunday night (early Monday morning). However, the Delta Aquarids will be visible tonight as well, particularly when the sky is darkest in the overnight hours and up until the first light of dawn.

Whatever night you end up choosing, you are bound for a majestic treat.

“Some of the Delta Aquariid meteors leave glowing gas trails that linger for a few seconds after they burn up in Earth’s upper atmosphere,” notes CNN.

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“Some meteors have only faint, quick streaks. Others are brighter and can appear to sail across our sky for several seconds, leaving a glowing smoke trail.”

In case you miss the Delta Aquarids during their peak, you have a second chance to catch the meteors in about two weeks’ time, on the peak night of the Perseids – the following annual meteor shower, which peaks on August 12.

“You will know that you have spotted a Delta Aquarid if the meteor is coming from the direction of the constellation Aquarius,” explains NASA, noting that the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower is located on the northern sky.

A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky above Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, on August 12, 2016.
A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky above Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, on August 12, 2016. Ethan Miller / Getty Images

For tips on how to watch a meteor shower, head over to the step-by-step list of what to do to maximize your chances of spotting the faint meteors in the sky, as detailed by The Inquisitr. And, if you’re planning to catch the Delta Aquarids on camera, check out these 10 NASA pro tips on how to photograph a meteor shower, summarized by The Inquisitr.

Happy viewing, everyone!