Science

A triple meteor spectacle will brighten our skies this weekend

This article was originally published in The Conversation. (will open in a new tab) The publication published an article in Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights on Space.com.

Jonty Horner (will open in a new tab)Professor (Astrophysics), University of South Queensland
Tanya Hill (will open in a new tab)Honorary Member of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy) of the Victorian Museums.

Looking for something spectacular to brighten up a cold, dark winter night?

Well, there might be something in store this weekend: not one, not two, but three meteor showers active at the same time – combined, they provide sky fireworks almost all night.

While the best night to watch will be Saturday evening and night (July 30) (before dawn on Sunday morning), three showers will be close to peak from tonight. This way you will have many chances to get into the show while avoiding bad weather or other commitments.

Best of all, there’s going (will open in a new tab) there will be a new moon, which means that there will not be many glare spoiling the view.

Related: Meteor Shower 2022 Guide: Dates and Viewing Tips

Not one meteor shower, but three?

The solar system is full of debris from the formation of the planets over 4.5 billion years ago. Some of these debris – comets and asteroids – move in orbits that intersect the Earth’s path around the Sun.

Each time these comets and asteroids approach the Sun, they drop debris. Over hundreds or thousands of years, their orbits are covered with wide streams of dust.

The Earth constantly passes through these streams of debris as it moves around the Sun, which generates annual meteor showers. (will open in a new tab). Every year we return to the same place in our orbit, encounter the same stream of debris, and have another nice sight when that debris burns up harmlessly at an altitude of 80 kilometers.

In the midst of an Australian winter, the Earth moves through a small patch of space where three streams of debris intersect with our planet’s orbit. These three streams are producing the stars of this weekend’s show: the Southern Delta Aquariids, the Alpha Capricornids and the Austrinids Pisci.

International Meteor Organization (will open in a new tab) features 3D animated renderings of the southern Aquariid Delta. (will open in a new tab) and alpha capricornida (will open in a new tab) meteor showers, which show how debris is distributed in space.

The 3D visualization of the Alpha Capricornida meteor shower lets you navigate the Solar System and see the debris shower in action. (Image credit: International Meteor Organization/Screenshot)

Tale of three souls

So, we present the stars of the show.

The Southern Delta Aquarids are the most active of the three showers with the fastest meteors. Most of the meteors you see this weekend are likely to be members of this shower.

The origin of the southern Delta Aquarids is a matter of debate. This is one of several meteor showers that appear to be associated with the same parent. (will open in a new tab)as if a large comet had long ago disintegrated and left behind a huge amount of debris, potentially including fragments large enough to be comets in their own right.

Over the millennia, the debris has spread, so the Earth collides with them several times every year. So far, the southern Delta Aquarids are tentatively associated with a comet called 96P/Machholtz. (will open in a new tab)which is the most active object in the garbage stream.

The southern Delta Aquarids have been known to hold some surprises. They made a splash in 2006 when some people saw more than 60 meteors per hour at their peak. There are no outbreaks this year, but you never know what might happen!

The second of our triumvirate of showers is the Alpha Capricornidae. They produce the slowest meteors of the three showers. They also have a reputation for being a shower of “fireballs” that often produces spectacular meteors that outshine the brightest stars.

These are the meteors you are most likely to catch on film and provide a great opportunity to practice astrophotography.

The last stream, the Austrianidae Piscis, is perhaps the least studied of the three. Like the Alpha Capricornids, they are a small shower that only has a few meteors per hour, even at their peak. Their meteors have an average speed.

So where and when should I watch?

The key for observers is to determine when the shower’s radiant will be above the horizon. The radiant is the point in the sky from which all meteors in a shower emanate.

The meteor shower is named after the location of their radiant. Alpha Capricornis, for example, come from a point near the star Alpha Capricorni.

The radiants of the meteor showers will be high in the eastern sky, around 23:00 local time. Weather permitting, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible, as well as the bright stars Fomalhaut, Altair (to the northeast) and Achernar (to the southeast). (Image credit: Victorian Museums/Stellarium)

In the case of our winter trio, we were very lucky. All three radiants rise early or late in the evening from Australia and reach a reasonable height around 10:00 pm.

As a result, you will be able to see meteors at any time from the middle of the evening. The best rates will be visible from around 22:00 until dawn.

Once you’ve settled into a comfortable observation position, try not to look at your phone. You need your eyes to properly adjust to the dark so that you can see the faintest meteors. Looking at the screen even for a second, you will return to the starting point.

By morning, around 5 am local time, on Sunday, July 31, meteor showers will come from the western side of the sky. The planets Saturn, Jupiter and Mars should also be visible. (Image credit: Victorian Museums/Stellarium)

We find that the best place to watch a meteor shower is about 45 degrees above the horizon and about 45 degrees to the left or right of the radiant.

Therefore, in the early evening it is better to look to the east or northeast. By midnight and just after it, it is best to look north. And in the predawn hours, you should look to the west or northwest.

And don’t worry when it’s over! While these three showers are preparing to put on a decent show, they are not the best meteor event of the year. it’s the Geminids (will open in a new tab)will appear in December. So there’s a lot more to come!

This article is republished from The Conversation (will open in a new tab) under a Creative Commons license. Read original article (will open in a new tab).

Follow all Expert Voices questions and debates and join the discussions on Facebook. (will open in a new tab) and twitter (will open in a new tab). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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