Three Active Meteor Showers Light Up Sky as Southern Delta Aquariids, Alpha Capricornids Peak and Perseids Warm Up

Three meteor showers are currently lighting up the night sky, all of which are visible from North America.

The Alpha Capricornids and Southern Delta Aquariids both peaked last night, however, they will be active until August 15 and August 23 respectively.

The other active shower is the Perseids, one of the most spectacular sights in the northern hemisphere sky, which peaks on August 12.

"The peak for Southern delta Aquariids, Alpha Capricornids was last night, but now is still an active time for meteors, and meteors from these two showers will continue along with the Perseids," Mike Hankey, a spokesperson for the American Meteor Society (AMS), told Newsweek.

Meteor showers are celestial events in which several meteors can be seen in the night sky, all appearing to originate from a single point. This happens when the Earth passes through streams of cosmic debris left over by comets and, in some cases, asteroids.

Meteors, colloquially known as "shooting stars," are the streaks of light we see when small pieces of debris enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up at high speeds.

According to the AMS, the Southern Delta Aquariids (SDA) are a strong shower that is best seen from the southern tropics. North of the equator, the meteor shower is still visible, although meteor rates are significantly lower than further south, around 10 each hour.

This shower produces good rates for a week centered on the peak, featuring meteors that are usually faint and lacking persistent trains.

"In order to identify a meteor as an SDA, you need to be able to trace the path of the meteor back to the constellation Aquarius, which is low in the south these evenings and not a constellation that non-astronomers are likely to recognize," Rick Fienberg, a spokesperson for the American Astronomical Society, told Newsweek.

"The SDAs themselves are faint, and the moon is up and getting brighter every evening this week. So even though you might spot a few SDA meteors any of the next few evenings, you might not recognize them as such," he said.

The Alpha Capricornids is not a very strong shower, rarely producing more than five meteors per hour in a perfectly clear, moonless sky, far from city lights. However, the shower is notable for the number of bright fireballs—particularly bright meteors—that it produces. The shower's radiant is located in the constellation Sagittarius and it is seen well on both sides of the equator.

Perseid meteor shower
A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky early August 12, 2008 near Rogers Spring in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

"Like Aquarius, Capricorn is low in the southern sky and rather faint and probably not well recognized by non-astronomers. But if you're lucky enough to see a bright fireball zooming out of the south any of the next few evenings, it might well be an Alpha Capricornid," Fienberg said.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, meanwhile, reaches a strong peak in mid-August, with 50 to 75 meteors usually visible each hour from dark locations.

"The Perseid peak will be August 12, but these meteors have already started and rates will increase as we get closer to the peak date. In summary, now is the best time of year to get outside and watch meteors. You don't have to wait for the peak night. Any night between now and then will be active," Hankey said.

The radiant of the Perseids, which are the result of debris released released by the Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is located near the constellation Perseus at maximum activity.

"The Perseids are a major meteor shower and one of the best and most reliable of the year. This year the moon is at last quarter at [the peak] night, which means it rises around midnight," Fienberg said.

"The good news is that it won't interfere with evening meteor-watching. The bad news is that the best hours for meteor-watching are the hours between midnight and dawn, because then you're on the side of Earth facing 'into the wind,' that is, facing our direction of orbital motion, which means the meteors hit the atmosphere faster and often shine brighter."