KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – There’s a meteor shower that peaks tonight.
The Southern Delta Aquariids peaks late Monday night into the early morning of Tuesday. “This one is not known for a lot of meteors per hour,” warns Dr. Sean Lindsay, astronomy coordinator at the University of Tennessee. But they can be seen in East Tennessee.
The tough part: Finding a dark sky to see the quick flashes of light across the sky.
The best place to see meteors is somewhere away from city lights.
Best places to watch the meteors
Good viewing areas near Knoxville include the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area and Pickett CCC Memorial State Park near Jamestown, which is internationally recognized as “dark sky site,” Lindsay said.
Another of his favorites is the Foothills Parkway. Just park at a scenic overlook and get out the lawn chair. These meteors appear in the southern sky, which faces toward the Smokies from the Foothills Parkway, which is a pretty dark sky.
“The best way to observe these things is with friends more than anything else,” Lindsay said. Bring something comfortable to sit on, be patient and keep looking in the same direction, he recommended.
Best way to watch is with friends
“You don’t want to use binoculars or a telescope. You’re much less likely to see them. They happen very, very quickly, just a second or two,” Lindsay said. “Just having a broad view of the sky is best. The human eyes are about the best for that.”
The Southern Delta Aquariids come from the Comet 96P Machholz, which passes by the sun every five years. The comet was discovered by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz in 1986. Its meteors, which number between five to 10 per hour, are most visible between in the early hours. “If you really want to be up at 4, go for it,” Lindsay said.
While tonight is the peak, the meteor shower is active from July 12 to Aug. 23. The best viewing is in the Southern Hemisphere.
‘Comet dust’ the size of a grain of sand
The meteors are “comet dust,” he noted.
“Most people have no idea how small these things really area. The average size is about the size a grain of sand to pebble size,” he said. “They’re extraordinarily small.”
The light you see actually the air glowing as the meteors enter the atmosphere at 25,000 to 150,000 miles per hour, according to Lindsay.