In the northern hemisphere, the best time to watch meteor showers is late July and early August. Nights are warm, and two major showers – the Delta Aquarid meteor shower and the Perseid meteor shower – converge to put on a show.
This week, the moon is waning in the predawn sky, but it’s a slim moon, not casting much light, and some meteors might show up in its glare. The moon will be new, or between the Earth and sun on Saturday. Afterwards, the moon will begin to wax again, but you’ll have an entirely moon-free sky after midnight during the first week of August. Full moon will come on August 13, a peak morning for the Perseids.
Although the date of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is scheduled for tonight and Friday, officials say that really, the meteor shower has no true peak.
The meteors will appear to radiate from the southern part of the sky. The maximum hourly rate may reach 15-20 meteors in a dark sky like we have in Richmond County. These medium-speed meteors ramble along fairly steadily throughout late July and early August. An hour or two before dawn usually presents the most favorable view of the Delta Aquarids. Try watching in the hours between midnight and dawn.
The Perseid meteor shower is scheduled for August 12 or 13, in the morning hours after midnight – not that night. Unfortunately, the full moon will spoil 2011′s Perseid display, obscuring all but the brighter meteors, during the shower’s actual peak, according to EarthSky.org.
“But you will see Perseids in the weeks leading up to the peak, too, if you have dark skies,” wrote EarthSky’s Senior Editor Deborah Byrd. “These typically fast and bright meteors radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. You don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower because the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. The Perseids are considered by many people to be the year’s best shower, and often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour – in years when the moon is out of the sky.”
However, 2011 is not a great year for the Perseids, because the moon is full on the expected peak date. The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. Start watching for the Perseids in the first week of August. They will be building gradually to their peak. By the second week of August, the moon will begin interfering with the skies between midnight and dawn. On the mornings of August 12 and 13, you can still watch for some Perseid meteors to streak across this short summer night from midnight until dawn.