Backyard Observatory

A Meteor Shower and a Comet Grace the Sky Tonight. Here's How to See Them.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on Tuesday, July 28, and you can still see Comet NEOWISE.

see delta aquarid meteor shower 2020
Simon Robling/Getty Images

Whatever the reason you find yourself looking toward the night sky, there's still a sudden thrill that rises in the stomach as a meteor traces a white line across the dark sky. It's a tiny flash of light that can summon memories of childhood -- maybe someone saying "make a wish" on a hot summer night -- as well as provoke you to think about the unknown expanses beyond Earth's atmosphere. 

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is a long sprawling meteor shower that is active from around July 12 to August 23. It plods along slowly without a hard peak. Though, that peak will nonetheless arrive on the night of Tuesday, July 28, into the morning of Wednesday, July 29, producing 10 to 20 meteors per hour. 

The shower occurs as Earth plows through the line of debris left by the comets Marsden and Kracht. Its appearance alongside the passing of Comet NEOWISE provides a fun connection, seeing an active naked-eye comet amidst the debris of a comet long gone. The context may help make the meteors feel a little more spectacular despite the Delta Aquarids being fainter than most notable showers and leaving fewer persistent trains (tails). 

If you're going out to see the meteor shower, you'll want to look for Comet NEOWISE, which is dimming as it streaks out of our solar system. However, it is still out there. (Bring binoculars!) One thing to note, though, is that the comet is visible just after sunset. Meteors can be seen any time of night, but will be best viewed after midnight. 

How to see the Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak

The meteor shower isn't the most active of the year, and it's more spectacular in the Southern Hemisphere. Nonetheless, with some patience, you'll be able to see some meteors and maybe even catch a few meteors from the Perseids. The Perseids shower is expected to be the best, most active meteor shower of the year. It's just getting started and will become far more spectacular when the peak arrives on August 11.

For the best chance to see Delta Aquarid meteors, you need to go somewhere dark. You want to get away from the bright lights of the city, which makes it difficult to see fainter meteors. The meteors will be visible throughout the night, but you'll see the most after midnight. That's partly true because the moon will set after midnight, per Time and Date, removing some of the light pollution that washes out meteors from view.

The meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius and the star Skat (Delta Aquarii). The radiant point can be useful to identify, but you don't want to stare directly at the radiant. The meteors will be moving away from the radiant and can appear anywhere in the sky. You may miss some if you're focused too intently on the radiant. 

The radiant will be important to note if you're interested in figuring out whether a meteor is from the Delta Aquarids or the Perseids at any point when the two showers overlap. Trace the meteor backward and you should arrive near its radiant point. The Perseids will trace back to the constellation Perseus in the northeast sky after midnight. EarthSky notes that broadly speaking, if a meteor comes from the north or northeast, it's probably a Perseid. If it's coming from the south, it's likely from the Delta Aquarids. 

It's a unique opportunity to view meteors and Comet NEOWISE. Plus, you can scout out the perfect dark sky location for when the Perseids arrive in a few weeks.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.