Perfectly timed with a new Moon, this year the Southern Delta Aquariids Meteor shower is forecast to put on quite a show, so long as the weather holds!

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower is a celestial event where the Earth passes through a stream of dust in orbit around the Sun. As the Earth passes through the dust stream small particles enter the atmosphere, heating to tremendous temperatures and vaporising. Most of these particles are no larger than a grain of sand, and will not survive the fall to the surface of the Earth.

The stream of dust that the Earth passes through is often associated with a comet’s debris trail intersecting with the Earth’s orbit. Each time a comet passes near to the Sun, some of the ice that makes up the comet’s nucleus vaporises, spreading out behind the comet into a tail and eventually a trail behind the comet. 

Comet 69P Machholz frkom HI-2 camera of STEREO-A spacecraft (NASA)

What is the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower?

The Southern Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower is an annual meteor shower that is experienced on Earth from mid-July to mid-August, peaking on the 28th and 29th of July. The comet that produces the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower is not known with certainty, however, it is thought that they are produced by Comet 96P Machholz.

The Southern Delta Aquariids appear to radiate from the star Delta Aquarii in the constellation of Aquarius. We’ve included a handy guide to find Delta Aquari below. The shower is considered to be a strong shower, producing up to 20 meteors per hour.

Find the radiant point for the Southern Delta Aquariids using Saturn, Fomalhaut and Delta Aquarii. Image produced with Stellarium Free Planetarium Software

What to look for:

Normally, a meteor is a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ event. One second it’s there, the next it’s gone. Meteor showers give stargazers the chance to see many meteors in a single outing. As mentioned above, the meteors will appear to emanate from the star Delta Aquarii, appearing as almost parallel streaks of light. Keep in mind that the shower is expected to produce 20 meteors per hour, or 1 every three minutes, so bundle up and check out our list for meteor shower tips here. Keep an eye high to the north, the Southern Delta Aquariids will appear to radiate from almost directly overhead!

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