Sky Watch by J. Alex Knoll
Aquarius’ Dim Lights
An annual meteor shower could brighten this constellation
The waning moon reaches last-quarter Friday the 25th, providing darkened skies for this year’s Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower. Although one of the more modest meteor happenings, they last from mid-July to mid-August, peaking around July 29.
Clear, dark skies after midnight will reveal a dim streak of light every five minutes or so. At peak, however, that number can increase to 20 meteors an hour. Typically moving south to north, the Southern Delta Aquarids appear to emanate from their namesake, the dim constellation Aquarius, which, remains snug against the southern horizon, limiting the view for us in the Northern Hemisphere.
Unlike grand meteor showers like the Perseids and the Leonids, astronomers have found no source meteor for the Southern Delta Aquarids, which leads them to believe it is quite old. The shower’s month-long apparition, a result of its diffused, wide-spread trail of cosmic debris, adds to this theory. Even so, the Southern Delta Aquarids were first recorded rather recently, in 1870, by U.S. Army Lt. Col. G.L. Tupman.
Although dim, Aquarius, the water bearer, is one of the oldest constellations, appearing carved in 5,000-year-old rocks from Mesopotamia and Babylon. To these early societies, Aquarius brought “the curse of rain,” deluging the land. The Egyptians, however, saw Aquarius’ flooding as a blessing, sending water from the Nile over its banks and into the parched fields.
Saturn is slowly disappearing amid the glow of evening twilight and within a few weeks will be gone. Mars, too, is slipping away, outpacing the sun for now, but setting before 10pm. Jupiter, a beacon in the southeast at sunset, rules the southern skies until an hour or so before dawn.
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