There are few things more magical than spotting a shooting star. This weekend is one of the best times to catch one, during this year’s Delta Aquarid meteor shower, which can be enjoyed from much of Earth (though is harder to see from its northernmost regions).
What am I watching, exactly?
“Shooting stars” are actually meteors, which are tiny pieces of space debris that enter Earth’s atmosphere at incredible speeds and burn up, releasing a flash of light. The debris in the case of the Delta Aquarid meteors likely comes from Comet 96P Machholz, which was discovered in 1986. The last time the comet passed the Earth’s orbit, it left behind bits of material from its long tail, which then light up our sky every year we pass through it.
When can I see it?
The Delta Aquarids are active from July 12 to Aug. 23, but they peak in the end of July. This weekend the moon will set after midnight, and spotting Delta Aquarids requires that because its meteors are fainter than, say, the Perseids.
Where in the sky should I be looking?
You should allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to get used to the dark (no screens in the mean time please), and then you can simply look up. Delta Aquarids favor those in the southern hemisphere, but people in mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere should be able to catch some too.
For the geeks
The Perseids and the Delta Aquarids overlap. If you’d like to distinguish the two, EarthSky suggests trying to find the “radiant point” of the shower. This is the location in the sky from where the meteors seem to emerge. The Pereseid meteors would seem to shoot out from around the Perseus constellation and the Delta Aquarids from the Aquarius constellation.