Oh how we love these warm summer nights. And if you enjoy watching falling stars, you should be in for a treat over the next few weeks. The Delta Aquarids and Perseids meteor showers are coming soon. So it is time to find a dark location and do a little sky watching for a few evenings.
The Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower starts on the twelfth and runs to August 23. The peak viewing period will be on the evening of July 28th and early morning of the 29th with perhaps 20 meteors per hour.
Overlapping with the Delta Aquarids is the Perseids Meteor Shower. It will begin on July 17 and run through August 24. The Perseids is one of the best showers, with perhaps up to 60 meteors per hour. This meteor shower will peak on the evening of August 11 and early morning hours of the 12th. Following the Perseids we will have to wait until early October when the Draconids Meteor Shower begins on October 6. And of course, it will not be as warm then.
Falling stars, of course, are not falling stars. With a few exceptions, they are bits of comet material: ice, rock, and dust. Think of them as dirty snowballs or snowy dirtballs a few miles in diameter. When comets pass near the sun, the heat causes them to shed ice and particles. These mostly sand-sized pieces of ice and rock create a “debris field” in outer space. When the earth passes through these debris fields, the pieces collide with the atmosphere and become glowing hot. Viewed from earth, they are “falling stars.” A lot of “falling stars” makes a meteor shower. There are eight major meteor showers associated with comets each year.
So watch for clear skies over the next few weeks. There should be ample opportunity to see a few meteors and perhaps also learn some new constellations. I do not think you will be able to catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, but you might find yourself singing that song Perry Como made popular back in the day…