The end of July, the 28th and 29th will bring the peak of the Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower with up to 20 shooting stars an hour. The shower till run from July 12 to August 23, so you will have more than a month to find the best weather and conditions to view these shooting stars.
Photo courtesy of Kim MyoungSung @ Flickr
About the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Shooting stars are caused by particles of dust, yes that is right, dust, hitting the Earth's atmosphere. Some of the bigger ones that produce fireballs can be as big as a grain of sand. They burn brightly because of the speed that they hit, or more accurately, the Earth hits them, and this causes friction as they enter the atmosphere.
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Stawarz @ Flickr
The Southern Delta Aquarids are the result of the Earth passing through clouds of dust left behind by two comets, the Marsden and the Kractht, which is why the shower lasts for over a month.
The names of meteor showers come from the radiant point, that is, the place in the sky they appear to come from. In this case, it is the star Delta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarii.
Generally speaking, the best time to see a meteor shower is between the hours of midnight to dusk, though there are some exceptions. This is because shooting stars are caused by the Earth slamming into the dust clouds. After midnight is when the night sky is facing the direction that the Earth is moving, so you get most shooting stars after this time.
Photo courtesy of Jason Jenkins @ Flicker
So this meteor shower will last from July 12 to August 23. While the peak falls on July 28 and 29, with up to 20 shooting stars an hour, unfortunately, you won't really see much because of the full moon at this time.
To go shooting star spotting the most important thing is to get away from light pollution and to find a nice open spot. One of my favourite spots to do this is on a secluded beach, but that is a better option in summer. Alternatively, you can go away from the city, and I know people who hike up mountains to get a clear view of the night sky.
The most important thing is to avoid all light pollution. That means, no campfires, no mobile phones, smart watches or camera screens. It takes up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark and even a glance at a light source can affect your night vision.
Courtesy of Emilio Küffer @ Flickr
Sit down, or better yet, lie down. Standing up will quickly give you a sore neck as you look up at the sky. The meteor shower is named after the radiant point and while it can be helpful to work out where this is in the night sky, shooting stars are radiating out from this point, so basically you want to look everywhere but the radiant point.
Photographing a Meteor Shower
Photographing shooting stars is challenging because they are quick, faint and you don't know exactly where or when they will appear in the night sky. To photograph a meteor you will need a good camera, such as a DLSR or a mirrorless camera. You want to use the fastest lens that you have. For most people, your fastest lens will be a f/3.5, but for shooting stars ideally, you want an f/2.5 for f/2.0 lens. The lower the f setting, the larger the aperture will be and the more light will be let in, giving you a clear shot of the shooting star.
You will also need a tripod to get a steady shot and typically you want to take 10-25 second exposures. The longer the exposure, the more of the background night sky will be captured, which can look cool, but too much will obscure the shooting star.
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Stawarz @ Flickr
As the shooting stars are too fast to try and hit the button when you see one, what you want to do is set your camera to continuously shoot. This can be great because you can let your camera do its thing and then, of course, you have to trawl through all the photos to see if you were lucky enough to capture a meteor in flight.
A great month of shooting stars. It is a pity that the peak is also a full moon, but you can go out on other nights. Some states will have their school holidays during the meteor shower, so it can also be a great family event - if you can get your kids to stay up late in the dark and not look at their phones.