The cosmos are concluding a spectacular month of celestial events with a double feature: two meteor showers peaking at the same time. Asmakes its way back toward the outer solar system, next week brings the peak of not only the Southern Delta-Aquariids, but also the alpha Capricornids.
What are the southern Delta-Aquariids and alpha Capricornids?
Under ideal conditions, skywatchers can expect to see about 25 meteors per hour.
Delta Aquariid meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer, which, as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, arcs across the southern sky. The radiant point aligns with the star Skat (Delta Aquarii) — giving the shower its name.
Meteors are leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. The comet astronomers suspect is responsible for the meteor shower is called 96P/Macholz, which was discovered in 1986 by Donald Machholz and orbits the sun about once every five years.
According to the American Meteor Society, the alpha Capricornids are active from July 2 through August 10, also peaking early next week.
This meteor shower is much less active, producing only about 3 meteors per hour. The average alpha Capricornid meteor is relatively slow, but the shower does bring with it stunning fireballs.
The meteors appear to radiate from the border of the Sagittarius and Aquila constellations, just southeast of a star called 37 Aquilae and west of Alpha2 Capricorni (Algedi).
When and where to watch the meteor showers
The Delta-Aquariids are clearly visible from the Southern Hemisphere, but mid-northern latitudes will also be able to spot the show. Meteors will be visible in the days surrounding the showers' peaks.
The faint meteors of the Delta-Aquariids, which lack persistent trains and fireballs, can be difficult to spot, especially if the moon is present. So, searching during the shower's peak will give viewers the best chance to see meteors.
Alternatively, the alpha Capricornids produces a high number of bright fireballs, despite lacking strength. This shower is seen equally well on either side of the equator.
Weather permitting, NASA recommends finding a place with a clear view of a large swath of the sky, preferably towards the south. Move far away from any sources of light and look up on Monday morning between about 12:20 a.m. EDT and 4:17 a.m., around dawn. Similar views will be available for several days early next week.
Lie flat on your back and look up, allowing your eyes several minutes to adjust before taking in as much of the sky as possible. Be patient — the show will last until dawn.
"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," NASA said. "In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors."
If you can't spot the showers, look for them again during the Perseids meteor shower in August, when they will still be visible. While Perseids — the most spectacular meteor shower of the year — is currently active, its peak won't come until next month.