Have you ever heard of the Delta Aquarids? They may sound like a race of aliens from Doctor Who but in fact they are an annual event in our night skies – a meteor shower. Have you ever seen a shooting star and do you know what one is? Come with us as we learn about these visitors from outer space.
There are several different meteor showers and each one seems to appear at the same time every year. Why? Well, just as the seasons depend on Earth’s position as it orbits the Sun so do meteor showers. As the Earth travels through the solar system, at certain points it passes through trails of ‘rubbish’ left behind by comets. The material in these trails is attracted by the Earth’s gravity and burns up in the atmosphere.
You may have heard about the possible risk of things falling from space – after all, an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs! But you needn’t fear a meteor shower. Even the largest debris falling through our skies is no bigger than a baked bean and most of it is more like grit than rock. Travelling at speeds of up to 150,000 mph they all burn up and this is what gives us such a spectacular show.
So why the alien-sounding name? The names used in science can be a little daunting but, as with most things, once you understand them they are simple. Each meteor shower originates in a particular position of the sky and so they are all named after where they come from. The Alpha Capricornids for example come from the direction of Capricorn, the Perseids from Perseus and the Delta Aquarids from a particular star in the constellation Aquarius – Delta Aquarii.
The Delta Aquarids appear from mid-July to late-August every year but the best time to see them is tonight and tomorrow night (July 28th and 29th). You may get a glimpse of them if you are up after midnight, the sky is clear and you are very patient! If you are not lucky enough to see them with your own eyes then this National Geographic video will give you an idea of what you are missing. From everybody at Education Quizzes, happy sky-watching!