July and August see two overlapping meteor showers, with the first one, the Southern Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower starting on July 12, peaking on the evening of July 28 and the morning of July 29 with up to 20 shooting stars per minute and continuing on until late in August, where it will overlap with the Perseids Meteor Shower
Photo courtesy of Jason Jenkins @ Flicker
What you need to know about the South Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower
Shooting stars are not stars but particles of dust and sand hitting the Earth's atmosphere. Your typical shooting star is just a bit of dust but because of the speed that they enter the Earth's atmosphere, they burn very brightly. Occasionally a meteor, the size of a grain of sand, hits the Earth's atmosphere that can cause a fireball that lights up the night sky.
Like most meteor showers, the Southern Delta Aquariids are the result of Earth passing through clouds of dust left by passing comets. One source tells me that this meteor shower is from the breakup of 2 comets, Marsden and Kracht, while another source, says it might be 96P Machholz.
Meteor showers are named after the point in the night sky where they appear to come from. For this meteor shower, the radiant point is the star Delta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. The southern in the name is because it is best seen in the Southern Hemisphere, so here in Australia we get a great view.
Viewing the Southern Delta Aquarii Meteor Shower
Shooting stars are fairly faint, so the only way to really see them is to get away from city light pollution into the countryside or a secluded beach. Some people that I know like to hike up mountains to get the best all-round view of meteor showers.
Courtesy of Emilio Küffer @ Flickr
Your eyes will take about 20 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness, which means you want to avoid any and all light. So mobile phones need to be put away, smartwatches turned off and even campfires avoided. A glance at these things can affect your night vision.
Find a nice place to sit, or even better, lie down, where you have a good view of the night sky. Standing is possible but you will quickly find that your neck will become sore. During a meteor shower, shooting stars will radiate out across the night sky, so you don't have to look for the radiant point, but if you are curious, you can easily find it using a night sky app on your phone, such as Sky Map among many others. Just point your phone at the sky and it will tell you what you are looking at. Remember, of course, if you use your phone to do this, you will lose your night vision.
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Stawarz @ Flickr
Best viewing times
The general rule for meteor showers is that the best time to view them is between midnight and dawn. The times below are for the peak day of the shower, though you can go and view it on any day. The main things to pay attention to when planning to view a meteor shower are the moon times and phases, and the time of sunrise.
On the night of July 28 and the morning of July 29, you can really start looking for shooting stars from around midnight with peak viewing being close to dawn, however as a waning moon will rise before sunrise, it is best to do your viewing before this.
In Brisbane, the moon will rise at 3:24 am and sunrise is at 6:31 am, in Sydney,the moon will come up at 3:45 am followed by the sun at 6:50 am, Melburnites won't have to worry about the moon interfering with their shooting star viewing until 4: 21 am with sunrise at 7:24 am, Adelaide sees the moonrise at 4:11 am and the sun at 7:13 am, finally in Perth moonrise is at 4:09 am and sunrise at 7:08 am.
Photographing a meteor shower
One of the most challenging photographs to take is of a shooting star because it requires the right camera, lens and a lot of luck. While mobile phones are getting better all of the time they are not quite good enough yet for astrophotography. What you need is a DLSR or mirrorless camera
Onto this camera, you should attach your fastest lens. So a typical lens is going to be f/3.5, which may be okay, but ideally, you want a faster lens such as a f/2.5 or f/2.0. If you are new to photography and bought a DLSR kit with a zoom lens, it may not have the ideal speed, but you can buy a prime (non-zoom) lens fairly cheaply.
Set your camera up on a tripod and use an exposure length of between 10 and 25 seconds. The longer the exposure the more likely you will capture a shooting star but the more of the starfield you will also get, and while that can look cool, it can also obscure the meteor. I recommend trying a few photographs just of the night sky beforehand to work out what is ideal for your camera and lens configuration.
Photo courtesy of Kim MyoungSung @ Flickr
Now shooting stars are fast, so you can't just wait for one to go by and try to press the button. Instead, you need to set up your camera to shoot continuously in the hope that a shooting star will be in the frame in one shot. Then the next day, you have all the fun of going through the photographs to hopefully find one where you managed to capture a shooting star.
The South Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower runs for over a month and the peak evening won't have much interference from the moon until the early hours just before dawn, so for us in the Southern Hemisphere, they are worth viewing. They will also overlap with the more famous Perseids in August, so if you miss the Delta Aquariids at their peak, you might still see a few if you go and watch the Perseids in August.