A waning crescent moon will allow the heavens to showcase a meteor shower this week known to produce as many as 20 fireballs per hour.
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower persists through mid-August but peaks Thursday and Friday when interfering moonlight should be low and South Florida skies clear.
While the Delta Aqaurid display is not as robust as some, the meteorites move lazily through the sky giving stargazers a better chance at catching a glimpse. Because of the angle at which Delta Aquarids enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they tend to leave long glowing trails of ionized gas that can last one to two seconds.
“These are slow moving. They are more zoop than zip,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine. “Pretty much look wherever the sky is darkest and away from the moon.”
A high pressure system circling over Florida should keep skies mostly cloud free. The National Weather Service is forecasting sky cover of between 19 percent and 30 percent depending on time of day and just a 15 percent chance of rain. MacRobert said the best time to see the meteors is midnight to dawn when the Earth is facing forward in its orbit.
“That’s when you will get the meteors head on, like raindrops on a windshield,” he said.
If South Florida’s show is shrouded by clouds, the website Slooh is hosting a special broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. that will have live feeds from the Canary Islands, Connecticut and Canada.
The source of the Delta Aquarids remains a mystery, although some astronomers believe the shower occurs when the Earth passes through the broken up chunks of rock and dust from Comet 96/P Macholz. The comet was discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1986.
The meteorites appear to radiate from their namesake star Delta Aquarii, which is in the constellation Aquarius, the water carrier.
While this meteor shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, MacRobert said South Florida has a low enough latitude for good viewing as long as a darkened sky free of heavy light pollution can be found.
“Don’t get your hopes up too much, and be patient,” MacRobert said. “Just relax and have fun gazing into the stars.”