Image via Adobe Stock
Image via Adobe Stock
The Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower, while not being the most exciting meteor shower of the year, is visible from mid-July to mid-August every year. This year, it peaks between 28 and 30 July.
The Alpha Capricornids peak around the same time. While the Alpha Capricornids is still a ‘new’ meteor shower — more on that later — this underdog could produce a fireball or two.
It’s going to be a busy month for skywatchers. Not only do we have tonight’s double dose, but the Perseids meteor shower is just around the corner and the Full Sturgeon Moon will occur on 3 August.
A meteoroid is space rock, sometimes even as a tiny as a grain of sand, that enters Earth’s atmosphere. What we call a shooting star is actually the glowing hot air that surrounds a space rocks as it heats up in our atmosphere.
When it lights up in Earth’s — or any other planet’s — atmosphere, it’s a meteor. When many meteoroids enter our atmosphere it once, it’s called a meteor shower.
A meteoroid that survives a trip through the atmosphere and hits the ground is called a meteorite.
NASA explains it best:
“Comets, like Earth and the other planets, also orbit the sun. As a comet gets closer to the sun, some of its icy surface boils off; releasing lots of particles of dust and rock. This comet debris gets strewn out along the comet’s path, especially in the inner solar system (where we live) as the sun’s heat boils off more and more ice and debris”.
As we pass on our own journey around the sun, Earth’s orbit will cross a comet’s orbit and pass through the left-over comet debris. These are not to be confused with meteorites, which are space rocks have landed on a planet’s surface
The Delta Aquariid meteors radiate out of the constellation Aquarius, which will rise in the southeastern sky. Even though it peaks between 28 and 30 July, it will still be somewhat visible up to late August.
While most meteor showers stem from a known comet, the Southern Delta Aquariid meteoroids originate from the dust grains ejected by an unknown comet. Earth will be moving through the centre of the dust trail on Wednesday evening.
The Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower will peak Wednesday evening, 29 July 2020 and will be visible from South Africa. The Bronberg Weather Station in Pretoria suggests that you start looking overhead from 21:30.
The Southern Delta Aquariids is active from 12 July to 23 August with fewer activity either side of the peak time. If the weather permits, you could see between 15 and 20 visible meteors per hour.
The Alpha Capricornids meteor streams originate from dust particlles ejected by Comet 45P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, also known as Comet 169P/NEAT.
Hungarian astronomer Miklos von Konkoly-Thege discovered the meteor shower back in 1871. Due to its lopsided orbit, Alpha Capricornids appear infrequent but produces relatively bright meteors.
More recently, astronomers Peter Jenniskens and Jeremie Vaubaillon said that the Alpha Capricornids meteor shower was created about 3 500 to 5 000 years ago; when Comet 169P/NEAT disintegrated and fell into dust.
Future generations will appreciate it more than we do, as the dust cloud only crossed paths with Earth recently. The bulk of the dust will only fall to Earth during the 24th century. It is expected to become a major annual storm between 2220 and 2420.
You’ll have to stay up a bit later for these streaks of light as the Alpha Caprocornids will peak from around sunset until 4:30 on Thursday morning. The Alpha Capricornids meteor shower is active from 3 July to 15 August.
The most important aspect of viewing a meteor shower is to plan ahead. NASA explains that you won’t need a telescope, a pair of binoculars or even a high mountain to see a meteor shower.
The pandemic is messing with our meteor-watching activities this year so your backyard will have to do. Simply head out, lie flat and look up in order to see as much of the sky as possible.
If possible, take a blanket, chair or sleeping bag to keep you comfy. Looking halfway between the horizon and the zenith, and 45 degrees from the constellation of Aquarius will improve your chances of viewing the Delta Aquariids.