After three meteor showers — the Piscis Austrinids, South Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricorns — lit up Australia’s night sky last weekend, stargazers can see the peak of the 2022 Perseid meteor shower on August 13.
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What are meteor showers?
Meteor showers occur when cosmic debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The source of this debris is often comets, which have long orbits around the Sun.
“Like my cat, comets shed parts,” De Marco said. “These bits pretty much stay in orbit — so imagine a very elongated orbit that’s full of little bits.”
When Earth crosses a comet’s orbit, it encounters this debris. “It’s like driving a car through a cloud of insects — you get them all in the windshield,” De Marco said.
The debris burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in dazzling displays in the sky.
The Southern Delta Aquariids are descended from Comet 96P/Machholz, while the parent body of the Alpha Capricornids is Comet 169P/NEAT. Astronomers have yet to figure out where the Piscis Austrinids came from.
A meteor shower is named for the constellation closest to the radiant, the point in the sky from which the shower appears to be coming. For example, the Southern Delta Aquariids radiant is near the star Delta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius.
When and where is the best time to see the meteor showers?
New Zealand astronomer and director of the Otago Museum, Ian Griffin, said the showers from the Piscis Austrinids, South Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricorns were easy to spot with the naked eye. “You don’t need a telescope to see them, you just need a deck chair and an eyeball,” he said.
Piscis Austrinids: Summit on July 28th
If you’re on Australia’s east coast, the Piscis Austrinids will be rising in the southeast around 8 p.m. and moving closer to the east by 11 p.m., De Marco said. “Look east, about 45 degrees up — about halfway between the horizon and overhead.”
In New Zealand, the best viewing time is after 10pm.
Southern Delta Aquariids: July 30 Highlights
The southern delta Aquariids will be visible around 11 p.m. east-northeast and 45 degrees up from the horizon, De Marco said. This shower has the fastest meteors of the three peaking this week. New Zealand will see the shower around 1am.
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Alpha Capricornids: Highlights on July 30th
The Alpha Capricornids are “relatively bright and will have some fireballs,” De Marco said. Fireballs are very bright meteors – at least as bright as Venus in the morning or evening sky.
At around 11pm on July 30, the shower will be visible in the north-northeast, about 65 degrees above the horizon. New Zealanders can see it around 1am.
Perseid meteor shower dazzles in August
Another ongoing meteor shower is the iridescent Perseids, which are expected to peak on August 13th. At its peak, there will be more than 100 meteors per hour, De Marco said.
The radiant of this meteor shower is very close to the horizon, she said.
“You’ll see [meteors] from the northern horizon upwards. They will look like they are rising instead of falling.”
In Australia on August 13th at 5am the best visibility is in the north.
Those who want to plan their viewing experience in more detail can use the open source software Stellarium to model the night sky in 3D.