Watch the heavens this week for shooting stars

A meteor streaks through the Hong Kong sky in this five-minute time exposure Tuesday, Nov. 17, 1998. Part of the most spectacular meteor shower in 33 years, the photos shows particles in a long tail of the comet Tempel-Tuttle striking the atmosphere.

A waning crescent moon will allow the heavens to showcase a meteor shower this week, known to produce as many as 20 fireballs per hour.

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower persists through mid-August, but peaks Thursday and Friday when interfering moonlight should be low.

While the Delta Aqaurid display is not as robust as some, the meteorites move lazily through the sky, giving stargazers a better chance at catching a glimpse. Because of the angle at which Delta Aquarids enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they tend to leave long glowing trails of ionized gas that can last one to two seconds.

“These are slow moving. They are more zoop than zip,” said Alan MacRobert, senior editor of Sky and Telescope magazine. “Pretty much look wherever the sky is darkest and away from the moon.”

This meteor shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, MacRobert said, and a low latitude is good for viewing as long as a darkened sky free of heavy light pollution can be found.

“Don’t get your hopes up too much, and be patient,” MacRobert said. “Just relax and have fun gazing into the stars.”

MacRobert said the best time to see the meteors is midnight to dawn, when the Earth is facing forward in its orbit.

“That’s when you will get the meteors head on, like raindrops on a windshield,” he said.

If the show is shrouded by clouds, the website Slooh is hosting a special broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. that will have live feeds from the Canary Islands, Connecticut and Canada.

The source of the Delta Aquarids remains a mystery, although some astronomers believe the shower occurs when the Earth passes through the broken-up chunks of rock and dust from Comet 96/P Macholz. The comet was discovered by an amateur astronomer in 1986.

The meteorites appear to radiate from their namesake star, Delta Aquarii, which is in the constellation Aquarius, the water carrier.