Each summer, amateur astronomers from all over the world look forward to observing the famous Perseid meteor shower in early August, but often overlook six lesser celestial fireworks displays.
This year, the Perseids reach their peak between Aug. 9 and Aug. 13, but you can catch the others before then. The minor meteor shower sextet begins on July 28, with the peak of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower.
The online Slooh community observatory will stream live views of the Delta Aquarids in a webcast Thursday night at 8 p.m. EDT Obviously the webcast is dependent on weather conditions at its observing sites.
Minor meteor showers this summer
In general, the Earth encounters richer meteoric activity during the second half of the year. And you're more likely to see twice as many meteors per hour in the predawn hours as compared to the evening hours, weather permitting.
This is due to the fact that during the pre-midnight hours we are on the "trailing" side of the Earth, due to our orbital motion through space. So any meteoric particle generally must have an orbital velocity greater than that of the Earth to "catch" us.
However, after midnight when observers are looking up from the Earth's "leading" side, any particle that lies along the Earth's orbital path will enter our atmosphere as a meteor. As such objects collide with the Earth's atmosphere at speeds of 7 to 45 miles per second (11 to 72 km/second), their energy of motion rapidly dissipates in the form of heat, light, and ionization, creating short-lived streaks of light popularly referred to as "shooting stars."
Summertime meteors, occasionally flitting across your line of sight are especially noticeable between mid-July and the third week of August. And between Aug. 3 and Aug. 15, there are no fewer than six different minor displays that are active. These six include the previously mentioned South Delta Aquarids, the Alpa Capricornids, the South Iota Aquarids, the North Delta Aquarids, the Kappa Cygnids and the North Iota Aquarids.
Patience and clear skies
The only equipment you'll need to see this summer's meteor showers are your eyes, a modest amount of patience, good weather and dark skies. The actual number of meteors a single observer can see in an hour depends strongly on sky conditions. Note that five of the six showers in this summer shower-a-thon come from the region around the constellations of Aquarius and Capricornus, so get your eyes and telescopes set to those locations in your area.
While the hourly rates from these other meteor streams are but a fraction of the numbers produced by the Perseids, overall they provide a wide variety of meteors of differing colors, speeds and trajectories.
The Southern Delta Aquarids can produce faint, medium speed meteors; the Alpha Capricornids, described as "slow, bright, long trailed yellowish meteors" and the Kappa Cygnids which are classified as "slow moving and sometimes producing brilliant flaring fireballs." As such, if you stay out and watch long enough, you may be nicely rewarded for the time spent.