The Alpha Capricornids is a meteor shower that lasts for about 6 weeks from July 3rd to August 15th, with this year's peak occurring at the end of July. Despite being an infrequent shower with rarely more than 5 meteors per hour visible, it's worth watching out for the Alpha Capricornids as the meteors are bright and often include spectacular colourful fireballs.

Unlike some of the other annual meteor showers, Alpha Capricornids don't have a well-defined peak. Instead, maximum activity is spread over a "plateau like" period which varies from year to year. This year, July 30th and 31st are predicted to be the days of peak activity. A waning crescent Moon between 45% and 30% illuminated is visible at this time, but should not significantly interfere.

Discovery and Parent Body

The meteor shower was discovered by Hungarian astronomer Miklos von Konkoly-Thege in 1871. It was not until 2009 that Peter Jenniskens and Jeremie Vaubaillon identified the parent body as asteroid 2002 EX12. This object was subsequently identified as a comet and renamed as 169P/NEAT.

It's believed that the bulk of the cometary dust particles will not cross Earth's orbit for another 300 years and as a result the shower could be a major calendar event from 2220 to 2420 AD.


The shower radiant is located in Capricornus, close to the constellation boundary with Aquila and Aquarius. The meteors are well seen from all over the globe, with the tropics being the preferred location. Southern temperate latitudes are slightly better placed for observation than their northern counterparts. Just after midnight the radiant is position towards the south for northern hemisphere observers, overhead from the tropics and more towards the north for those located further south.

Alpha Capricornids Radiant and Star Chart

Alpha Capricornids Radiant and Star Chart - pdf format

The best time of night to observe the meteor shower is around midnight or during the early hours of the morning. The Alpha Capricornids are noticeably slow moving meteors (velocity 23 km/s) and as previously mentioned, often produce brilliant colourful fireballs that leave a trail of dust and debris as they disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere.

As with all meteor showers the meteor trails often streak across the sky quite a distance from the actual radiant point, in many cases in excess of 30 degrees and therefore can effectively appear anywhere in the sky. It's therefore a good idea not to look directly at the radiant itself, but scan a large area of the sky around it.

Alpha Capricornids Data Table 2013

Meteor shower nameAlpha Capricornids
Radiant constellationCapricornus
ActivityJuly 3rd -> August 15th
Peak DateJuly 30th / 31st
RA (J2000)20hr 28m
DEC (J2000)-10d
Speed (km/s)23
Parent body169P/NEAT
NotesProduces a few slow moving but relatively bright meteors including some fireballs

Comet 169P/NEAT Data Table (at epoch May 15th, 2007)

ClassificationJupiter-family comet (NEO)
DiscovererNEAT (Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking)
Discovery dateMarch 15th, 2002
Aphelion (AU)4.60176
Perihelion (AU)0.60660
Orbital period (years)4.20266
Last perihelion November 30th, 2009
Next perihelion February 12th, 2014
NotesPreviously known as asteroid 2002 EX12

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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