Meteor shower to shine in late July

By Jared Richards July 21, 2016
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Stay up late or set your alarms; the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is sending shooting stars across the twilight sky this month.

METEORS WILL SHINE their way across the Southern Hemisphere’s twilight skies towards the end of this month.

The yearly shower will peak this year between midnight and dawn from Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 July, although you’ll spot sporadic ‘shooting stars’ from now through to mid-August.

“During the peak, you’ll see a meteor every three to four minutes, or about 20 to 25 an hour,” said Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University in Canberra.

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Each year, the shower occurs when the Earth passes through the debris of comet 96P Machholz around the end of July. Brad says this debris is formed by chunks of rock and ice that crumble and fall off due to the comet’s close “sun-grazing” orbit.

“Debris forms a trail, and through this trail there’s waves of material that go out; some are more dense than others,” said Brad.

Warrumbungles National Park

Star-gazing opportunities will be best in open, dark places away from light pollution, such as in Warrumbungles National Park, NSW (pictured) which was recently named Australia’s first Dark-Sky Park. (Image: Luke Tscharke)

Whether any year’s shower is a standout comes down to whether the Earth passes through a denser part of the trail, since larger debris shines brighter in the sky. Unfortunately astrophysicists can’t predict what the section we’ll pass through looks like, but Brad assures it’s well worth the gamble to stay up late and take a gander.

The shower was named after its radiant point – where it enters our atmosphere – near the third brightest star of the Aquaris constellation.

“[But] you don’t want to look at just one point; where the meteor enters the atmosphere isn’t where they might burn up,” said Brad. “It’s like if you drop a tin of paint, it’ll splat out in all different directions.”

To make the most of the show, Brad recommends an unobstructed view to the horizon so you can see the whole night sky, as well as avoiding any light pollution, like street lights.

“Getting away from the city to a paddock or field is great, if you can,” he said.

The moon will be competing for attention too during the shower’s peak, glowing during the twilight hours as it passes from a Full Moon to a New Moon. It’ll outshine some of the smaller and duller meteors but overall, the night sky will be incredibly photogenic.

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Meanwhile, those in the Northern Hemisphere may spot a few stray Delta Aquarids meteors but will largely miss out on the view. However, come Friday 12 and Saturday 13 August, they’ll see multiple meteors a minute as the Perseids showers peak.