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Over these last few days of July, two meteor showers will light up the night sky.
The first, the Delta Aquariids meteor shower, is predicted to peak around 6 a.m. ET (10 a.m. UTC) Friday, according to EarthSky. Its radiant – the point from which meteor paths appear to come from – rises in midevening, is highest around 2 a.m. local time and is low in the sky by dawn.
As Earth orbits the sun, it encounters the lopsided orbit of a comet, the icy surface of which leaves behind dust and rocks as they boil off from the sun’s heat. When these space rocks fall toward our atmosphere, “the resistance – or drag – of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot,” according to NASA. “What we see is a ‘shooting star.’ That bright streak is not actually rock, but rather the glowing hot air as the hot rock zips through the atmosphere.
“When Earth encounters many meteors at once, we call it a meteor shower.”
Suspected to originate from Comet 96P Machholz, the Southern Delta Aquariids meteor shower occurs any time between July 12 and August 23 annually. It can be seen best by people in the Southern Hemisphere and southern latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, according to NASA. However, a moon-free dark sky is crucial, EarthSky emphasized. Fittingly, the moon will only be 1% full during the peak.
The meteors, which tend to number 10 to 20 per hour and fly at 25 miles (41 kilometers) per second, are most visible between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. in all time zones when the faint constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer – the shower’s radiant point – is highest in the sky, according to EarthSky. About 5% to 10% of Delta Aquariid meteors leave persistent trains, which are glowing, ionized gas trails that remain for a second or two after the meteor passes.
If you go outside for about 30 minutes before the shower, your eyes can adjust to the darkness, according to NASA. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, the radiant is closer to overhead; people in the Northern Hemisphere should look to the southern part of the sky. You don’t need to use a telescope. For optimal viewing, find an area away from artificial lighting and lie flat on your back, observing as much of the sky as possible, NASA suggested.
How to watch the Alpha Capricornids meteor shower
Following the Delta Aquariids peak will be the peak of the Alpha Capricornids meteor shower, which happens Saturday and Sunday while the moon is only 5% full, according to the American Meteor Society.
This shower isn’t very strong and rarely emits more than five meteors per hour, according to the society. However, Alpha Capricornids tends to produce bright fireballs during its peak and can be seen equally well by people on either side of the equator.
Other space events this year
There are more meteor showers you can catch during the remainder of 2022, according to EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide:
- August 13: Perseids
- October 9: Draconids
- October 21: Orionids
- November 5: South Taurids
- November 12: North Taurids
- November 18: Leonids
- December 14: Geminids
- December 22: Ursids
You will also be able to see five more full moons in 2022, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
- August 11: Sturgeon moon
- September 10: Harvest moon
- October 9: Hunter’s moon
- November 8: Beaver moon
- December 7: Cold moon
And there will be one more total lunar eclipse and a partial solar eclipse in 2022, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The partial solar eclipse on October 25 will be visible to people in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northeastern Africa, the Middle East, western Asia, India and western China.
The total lunar eclipse on November 8 can be seen in Asia, Australia, the Pacific, South America and North America between 3:01 a.m. ET and 8:58 a.m. ET. But for people in eastern North America, the moon will be setting during that time.
Wear proper eclipse glasses to safely view solar eclipses, as the sun’s light can damage the eye.