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The Delta Aquarids or Delta Aquariids is an annual meteor shower that takes place during July and August. It consists of two branches, the Northern Delta Aquariids and the Southern Delta Aquariids of which the Southern Delta Aquariids is the stronger. This year's event takes place between July 12th and August 23rd with peak activity occurring on July 29th when up to 16 meteors per hour can be expected (Zenithal Hourly Rate). An added bonus is the 20% illuminated waning crescent Moon will not significantly interfere. The shower is best seen from tropical and Southern Hemisphere locations.

The Northern Delta Aquariids stream is feeble in comparison. It peaks on August 7th with a maximum ZHR of 4.

Comet 96P/Machholz from HI-2 camera of STEREO-A spacecraft (NASA/ Johns Hopkins University)

Discovery and Parent Body

Lieutenant Colonel G. L. Tupman a member of the Italian Meteoric Association made the first detailed recordings of Delta Aquariids meteors between July 27 and August 6, 1870. The streams were then unidentified, but by plotting data from 65 meteors he could to a reasonable degree of accuracy determine the general region of the radiant.

Between 1926 and 1933, New Zealander Ronald McIntosh improved the position of the radiant. In 1938, Cuno Hoffmeister the founder of Sonneberg Observatory along with German colleagues were the first to record the northern part of the stream. It was astronomer Mary Almond, in 1952, who finally confirmed the presence of the two separate radiants.

The parent body of the Southern Delta Aquariids is uncertain. However, comet 96P/Machholz or comet Machholz as it's often referred is a possible candidate. This Jupiter family comet was discovered in 1986 by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz using a pair of 130mm binoculars. It has an orbital period of 5.2 years.

Radiants

The shower radiants are located in the faint zodiac constellation of Aquarius, southwest of the "Square of Pegasus". The southern radiant is 3 degrees west of star Skat (δ Aqr - mag. 3.3) with the northern radiant a further 14 degrees to the north. The brightest star in the surrounding sky is first magnitude Fomalhaut (α PsA - mag. 1.2) in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. Fomalhaut is positioned 14 degrees south-southeast of the southern radiant.

Delta Aquariids Radiants and Star Chart

Delta Aquariids Radiants and Star Chart - pdf format

What to expect in 2016

The best time to observe the meteor shower is during the early hours on the morning of July 29/30. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere and tropics should see a good show with the radiant high in the sky. For those at northern temperate latitudes the radiant remains low above the southern horizon and therefore fewer meteors will be seen.

The Aquariids travel at a slow to medium velocity (41 km/s). As with all meteor showers the trails often streak across the sky quite a distance from the actual radiant point; in many cases in excess of 30 degrees. It's therefore a good idea not to look directly at the radiant itself, but scan a large area of the sky surrounding it.

Southern Delta Aquariids Data Table 2016

Meteor shower nameSouthern Delta Aquariids
Radiant constellationAquarius
ActivityJuly 12th -> August 23rd
Peak DateJuly 29th
RA (J2000)22hr 40m
DEC (J2000)-16d
Speed (km/s)41
ZHR 16
RatingFaint
Parent bodyUncertain but possibly comet 96P/Machholz
NotesAlso referred to as the Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower

Comet 96P/Machholz Data Table (at epoch February 17th, 1994)

Name96P/Machholz
TypeComet
ClassificationJupiter-family comet (NEO)
DiscovererDonald Machholz
Discovery dateMay 12th, 1986
Aphelion (AU)5.94321
Perihelion (AU)0.12378
Orbital period (years)5.28362
Last perihelion July 14th, 2012
Next perihelion October 26th, 2017
NotesAlso known as Comet Machholz or 96P/Machholz 1. Discovery made by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz using 130mm binoculars