How to see the 2017 Delta Aquariid meteor shower
Your guide to catching a glimpse of the Delta Aquariid meteors, peaking across the southern hemisphere on July 27 and 28.
What is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower occurs when a cloud of debris from a comet or asteroid enters Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, leaving bright trails. Most often these debris particles are not much bigger than grains of sand.
In space anything up to about a metre in diameter is technically termed a meteoroid; when a meteoroid hits the Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor. A group of meteors is a meteor shower.
Because the particles are all moving in the same direction, to an observer on the ground they appear to radiate from a single point in the sky.
What are the Delta Aquariid meteors?
The source of the Delta Aquariid meteors is the Comet 96P/Machloz. It is one of several meteor events bearing the name Aquariid, due to the source, or radiant, of the showers appearing to be the constellation Aquarius. In the case of the Delta Aquariids, their radiant is near the constellation’s third-brightest star, Delta Aquarii.
There are two branches of the Delta Aquariids: the Northern Delta Aquariids, which are most visible in the northern hemisphere, and the Southern Delta Aquariids, best seen in the southern hemisphere. The southern shower is the more impressive light show, with an average of 15 to 20 meteors an hour.
When and where to see the Southern Delta Aquariids
The Southern Delta Aquariids can be seen for about six weeks each year from mid-July to late-August. Peak activity in 2017 is on the nights of July 27 and 28.
For best viewing, wait for a clear night and get out of town. The less ambient light pollution, the more meteors you will see. In 2017, the moon will be waning during the peak night for the Delta Aquariids, and will set before midnight, so it shouldn’t interfere with viewing.
The best time to see the meteors is about 2:00 AM local time, between midnight and dawn. At this time the radiant should be high in the sky to the north, a little lower than the zenith (the point directly overhead).