Making Wishes on the Lucky Stars of the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower

Friday, July 28, 2017.  9:00pm – 11:00pm @ Emmet County’s International Dark Sky Park at the Headlands

The waxing crescent Moon and giant Jupiter set a romantic stage for this beautiful Summer shower of the Delta Aquarid falling stars, and visitors to Headlands are invited to come early for the program, then stay late for making wishes. 

The Moon will set at midnight, leaving in its wake the greater part of the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower activity, which usually peaks around 2 a.m. Do not be fooled, the Delta Aquarid Meteors can be sparse, but they leave a persistent train and they move slowly, because of their sideways angle of approach through Earth’s atmosphere. 

“Meteor showers take their name from the constellation in front of which they seem to radiate through the night, and the fact that many of the stars in the constellation Aquarius have names pertaining to luck or good fortune, it’s easy to imagine that the meteors falling toward us from this region of sky really are the lucky wishing stars,” said Mary Stewart Adams, star lore historian and Program Director for the Headlands International Dark Sky Park. 

Program happens rain or shine, with the added bonus that, weather-permitting, the Headlands Observatory and telescope will also be open. “It’s great that we can now offer everything from naked-eye to deep space views of the sky, but it’s good to note that for meteor showers, telescopes are not ideal. You really just need wide open sky and a place to lean back and look up,” said Adams.

With the advent of meteor shower science in the 1800s, scientists have learned that meteor showers are connected to comets that whiz through our planetary system, leaving a trail of stuff in their wake as they burn up in their fall toward the Sun. Earth rhythmically passes through this stuff on its own orbit about the Sun, and this “stuff”, sometimes particles no larger than a grain of sand, burns up as it whizzes through Earth atmosphere, looking like bright stars falling through the sky.   

According to the science organization www.earthsky.org, the parent body of the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is not known with certainty. It was once thought to have originated from the breakup of what are now the Marsden and Kracht sungrazing comets. More recently, the Comet 96P Machholz has loomed as the primary candidate for being the Delta Aquarids’ parent body.

Donald Machholz discovered this comet in 1986. It’s a short-period comet whose orbit carries it around the Sun once in a little over five years. At aphelion – its greatest distance from the Sun – this comet goes out beyond the orbit of Jupiter. At perihelion – its closest point to the Sun – Comet 96P Machholz swings well inside Mercury’s orbit.

Comet 96P/Machholz last came to perihelion on July 14, 2012 and will next come to perihelion on October 27, 2017.

Parking for event is available near the Waterfront Event Center, and program will be held outdoors on the event center stage, and in the dome, with views through our telescopes (please note that meteor showers are best seen by looking at a wide open sky with the naked eye, not through a telescope).

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