Aquarius is a dim constellation in a barren patch of sky far off the plane of the Milky Way. Just east of Capricorn, it marks the 11th constellation of the zodiac. This dim constellation lies near the other “watery” constellations including Cetus, the Sea Monster (or whale), Pisces, the Fishes, and Eridanus, the River. This ancient constellation was associated with water or water bearers since Babylonian times. Some representations have the water bearer pouring water into a stream that leads to the bright star Fomalhaut, the mouth of the southern fishes Piscis Austrinus. Like Capricorn, Aquarius has far fewer deep-sky sights than Sagittarius. But there are a handful of objects here of enduring interest including the famous Helix Nebula, one of the nearest planetary nebulae to Earth. Let’s take a short tour of some of the finer sights in this zodiacal constellation… [Read more…] about Roaming the October Skies – A Brief Tour of AquariusShare This:
The showpiece of the constellation Aquarius is the grand and elusive Helix Nebula, NGC 7293. One of the closest and apparently largest of all planetary nebulae, the Helix is one of the few sights that’s easier to see in a small telescope than in a large one. In images, like the excellent collaboration above led by Warren Keller at BillionsandBillions.com, the nebula looks like an expansive eye in deep sky. Some refer to the Helix as the “Eye of God” [Read more…] about The Helix NebulaShare This:
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks this year around July 28. This annual event favors observers in the southern hemisphere and southerly latitudes in the northern hemisphere, though all observers can see some of these slow-moving meteors. The meteors of the Delta Aquariids appear to radiate from a point near the star Skat (δ Aquarii) in the constellation Aquarius. The shower peaks around July 27-30, but unlike most meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids lack a sharp peak so meteors are visible from mid-July through early August. The maximum hourly rate can reach 15-20 meteors in a dark sky. Because of their angle of entry into the atmosphere, the Delta Aquariids tend to leave long lingering trails which sets them apart from most other meteors.
It’s still a bit of a mystery as to what causes the Delta Aquariids. Some astronomers suspect the event happens when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left by the periodic Comet 96/P Macholtz. The comet was only discovered in 1986, though the meteor shower has been observed since at least the 1870s.
In late July 2015, near the time of the shower’s peak, a waxing gibbous moon will be out until after midnight. So the skies will be darkest and most favorable for seeing meteors a few hours before dawn as the shower peaks on July 27-30.Share This:
The usually reliable Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks on the night of May 5-6 this year. The shower runs from April 21 – May 20, 2015, with many meteors still visible for several days on either side of the peak. It is perhaps the best meteor shower of the year for southern hemisphere stargazers.
The annual Eta Aquarids occur as Earth passes through an stream of icy and dusty debris from the famous Comet 1/P Halley, more commonly called Halley’s Comet. We pass through a second stream of the comet in late October. This results in the Orionid meteor shower. So if you missed the comet during its last apparition in 1986, you can at least see sand-grain-sized bits of the comet burn up in the atmosphere during these two meteor showers.
The Eta Aquarids gets its name from the 4th magnitude star Eta Aquarii in the constellation Aquarius. The star is 168 light years away and bears no physical relation to the meteor shower. But the meteors appear to trace their paths back to a point in the sky near this star as the Earth moves into the debris field.
Because Aquarius lies on the ecliptic well south of the celestial equator, this is a better meteor shower for observers in the southern hemisphere. Rates of 30-60 meteors per hour are typical. Northern stargazers can see perhaps half as many near peak, but it’s still an impressive event. The Eta Aquarids on average are quite speedy and enter the atmosphere at 66 km/s (148,000 mph).
As with most meteor showers, the hours before
twilight dawn, as the Earth turns into the meteor stream, are the best time to see the Eta Aquarids. You don’t need to find the star Eta Aquarii to see the meteors. They can appear anywhere in the sky. You don’t need any optics… just lie back under dark sky and look up.