Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower: All You Need To Know To View The Spectacle In 2024

11th Jul 2024
Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower: All You Need To Know To View The Spectacle In 2024

Delta Aquariids is one of the two most spectacular meteor showers (the second one is the Perceids) that light up the night sky in summer. In 2024, the Delta Aquariids meteor shower will peak in late July. When is the peak of the shower, where is the best place to observe it, and what is its origin? These and other questions we will answer in this article.

Expected Peak Of Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower

In 2024, the Delta Aquariids will last from 18 July to 21 August. According to EarthSky, the shower will predictably reach its peak on 30 July at 15:16 UTC. Since the waning gibbous and last quarter moon will illuminate the sky after midnight, the best time to watch for the Delta Aquariids is before the moon rises.

However, astronomers warn that the expected peak is somewhat relative. The reason is that this shower continues steadily from late July through early August, combining with the August Perseids.

The Delta Aquariids can produce a maximum hourly rate of 15 to 20 meteors in a dark, moonless sky. If you’re observing in early August, you’ll usually see a good number of Delta Aquariids mixed in with the Perseids.

How To Set Apart Aquariids And Perseids In The Sky?

Perseid and Delta Aquariids meteors appear in the sky at the same time each year, so how not to confuse them? To tell these showers apart, you can use the concept of the radiant point.

radiant point
Radiant point. Credit: Kelly
  • Delta Aquariids: if you trace their paths backward, they seem to come from a point in front of the constellation Aquarius. In the Northern Hemisphere, this point is in the southern sky.
  • Perseids: These meteors come from the constellation Perseus, which is in the northeast to high in the north between midnight and dawn in the Northern Hemisphere.

In simple words, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere around midnight or later, meteors coming from the northeast or north are Perseids, while those coming from the south are Delta Aquariids. In a good year, with a dark sky, you might even see meteors from both showers crossing paths! But is 2024 such a lucky year – time will show.

Where And How To Witness Delta Aquariids

Similar to May’s Eta Aquariids, July’s Delta Aquariids are more favorable for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. Sadly, skywatchers at higher northern latitudes often overlook this shower. However, it can be quite impressive from locations such as the southern U.S. 

Delta Aquariid meteors are generally fainter than those of the Perseids. A dark, moon-free sky is crucial for viewing. About 5% to 10% of the Delta Aquariid meteors leave persistent trains, which are glowing ionized gas trails that linger for a second or two after the meteor has passed.

Delta Aquariid Meteor Shower’s Parent Comet

Comet 96P Machholz orbits the Sun about every 6 years
Comet 96P Machholz orbits the Sun about every 6 years. Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

The Delta Aquariid meteor shower originates from the 96P/Machholz Complex. This complex includes eight meteor showers, like the Delta Aquariids, two comet groups (Marsden and Kracht), and one asteroid (2003 EH1). They all seem to come from the same origin, even though their orbits around the sun are now slightly different.

They are all connected to the comet 96P/Machholz, which I found on 12 May 1986, from Loma Prieta Mountain in California. Comet 96P/Machholz orbits the sun every 5.3 years and gets much closer to the sun than Earth, at just 0.12 astronomical units (AU) away. One AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, so this comet comes well inside Mercury’s orbit. Over 4,000 years, the comet’s orbit changes, spreading particles throughout the inner solar system.

Notably, a recent study suggests the dust causing the Delta Aquariid meteor shower left the comet’s nucleus about 20,000 years ago. So what we see as a Delta Aquariid meteor shower is likely just old dust streaking across the skies.

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