~ St. Maarten’s Backyard Astronomy for July 27 & 28 ~

Sun rises at 5:48am.

Sun sets at 6:48pm.

Moon phase: 4th quarter, waning crescent.

Moon rises: 1:24am, Saturday.

Moon sets: 2:37pm, Saturday.

This weekend the skies will be on prime time for the annual Delta Aquariid meteor shower, which is set to peak during the predawn hours of July 28. However, keep in mind that the Delta Aquariids are generally a days-long, even weeks-long meteor shower, so you may see a shooting star well before or after the supposed peak of the event. With little or no moonlight adding brightness to the dark night sky from late July to early August, the coming week or ten days could be the best time to watch for these rather faint meteors. Typically, sky-watchers will see about ten to fifteen meteors per hour for the Delta Aquariids.

Need a more specific time to focus your meteor-gazing efforts? Okay, I get it, so plan to get up early on Sunday, July 28, and you will see a lovely vista, worthy of setting your alarm: the waning crescent moon, poised gracefully within the constellation of Taurus the Bull, which includes my personal favourite celestial jewel, the Pleiades. And you might catch some Delta Aquariid meteors as well. The most favourable viewing time begins around 1:00am and continues until dawn.

Admittedly, the Delta Aquariid shower is, at best, a modest shower. About five to ten per cent of these relatively faint, medium-speed meteors leave persistent trains, or glowing ionized gas trails that last a second or two after the meteor has passed. This family of meteors is seen each year in late July, because the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet (96P/Machholz) and the stream of debris left behind by this comet enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere, where the bits of ice and dust burn up as the Delta Aquariid meteors.

If you trace the paths of the Delta Aquariid meteors backward, they all appear to radiate from a certain point in the starry heavens – near the star Delta Aquarii (Skat). This point is called the radiant of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower. Of course, you don’t have to find the radiant point of a meteor shower to enjoy it, because the meteors will streak every which way across the starry heavens. Just find an open view of the sky away from artificial lights, sprawl out comfortably on a reclining lawn chair, preferably between midnight and dawn, and watch.

But did you know that is the start of an annual bonus time for meteor showers? Every summer we see that the Delta Aquariids blends into the more-famous Perseid meteor shower, which begins in late July and peaks around August 12th. However, the Perseid’s peak this year will have to contend with the light of a bright moon.

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email davisburnettlisa@gmail.com.