After the Australian night sky was lit up by a trio of meteor showers – Piscis Austrinids, Southern Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids – last weekend, stargazers will be able to see the 2022 Perseid meteor shower peak 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 from comets, which have long orbits around the Sun.
“Like my cat, comets throw bits,” 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 the path of a comet, it encounters this debris. “It’s like when you drive your car through a cloud of bugs — you get them all in the windshield,” De Marco said.
The debris burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in dazzling displays across the sky.
The Southern Delta Aquariids come from comet 96P/Machholz, while the main body of the Alpha Capricornids is comet 169P/NEAT. Astronomers have yet to find where the Piscis Austrinides come from.
A meteor shower is named after the closest constellation to the jet, the point in the sky from which the shower appears to originate. The radiation of the southern delta Aquariids, for example, is close to 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 showers of Piscis Austrinids, Southern Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids are easily visible to the naked eye. “You don’t need a telescope to see them, you just need a deck chair and your eyeball,” he said.
Piscis Austrinids: peaks on July 28
If you’re on the east coast of Australia, the Piscis Austrinids will rise around 8 p.m. to the southeast, traveling closer due east by 11 p.m., De Marco said. “Look east, about 45 degrees up—about halfway between the horizon and above your head.”
In New Zealand, the best viewing time will be after 10 p.m.
Southern Delta Aquariids: peaks July 30
The southern delta aquariums will be visible around 11 p.m., to the 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
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Alpha Capricorn: peaks on July 30
Alpha Capricorn is “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 approximately 11 pm on July 30, the shower will be visible to the north-northeast, about 65 degrees up from the horizon. New Zealanders can watch it around 1am.
Perseid meteor shower will dazzle in August
Another ongoing meteor shower is the dazzling Perseids, which are expected to peak on August 13. At most, there will be more than 100 meteors per hour, De Marco said.
The radiation from this meteor shower is very close to the horizon, she said.
“You’ll see [meteors] rising from the northern horizon. They’re going to look like they’re rising as opposed to falling.”
In Australia, the best view will be to the north at 05:00 on August 13.
For people who want to plan their viewing experience in more detail, the open source software Stellarium can model the night sky in 3D.