(AP Photo/Paul White)
There’s a very strange comet flying through our solar neighborhood that is like nothing astronomers have ever seen in a another comet.
And this had led some to speculate that maybe it’s not from around here but came to our solar neighborhood by chance from a completely different solar system far way.
If that’s the case, then right now Earth is flying through this alien comet’s tail, which consists of dust and debris the comet has shed in its path around the sun.
As these comet guts get swept up by Earth’s gravity, they fall toward us, burning up in the atmosphere on their way down in the form of what we call shooting stars — or a meteor shower. This week’s show of falling stars is called the Delta Aquarid meteor shower.
The shower takes place from July 12 through August 23, but the best time to catch a glimpse — when the most meteors are streaking across the sky — will be early Wednesday morning, after moon-set and before sunrise centered around 2 a.m. (for all time zones), according to EarthSky.
The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is not as spectacular as next month’s Perseid meteor shower, but it’s still worth checking out. You’ll need to have dark skies, far from city lights. At peak viewing time you should see between 10 to 20 meteors an hour.
To glimpse the meteors all you have to do is lie on your back and keep your eyes peeled in the direction of the constellation Aquarius — each meteor shower is named for the constellation where the meteors seem to appear from, hence the name “Delta Aquarid.” You can determine where Aquarius will be in your night sky at 2 a.m. with an astronomy app like Stellarium.
But don’t worry if you can’t get out of the city or aren’t willing to stay up until 2 a.m., you can still watch the meteor shower live. Slooh, an online observatory, will be broadcasting the meteor shower live starting on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
During the two-hour broadcast, host Will Gater and Slooh astronomer Bob Berman will discuss what we can learn from meteor showers and take questions from the public. Just send then a tweet with #SloohDeltaAquarids followed by your question. See the broadcast stream below.
Origins of Comet 67P/Machholz
(Public Domain on Wikipedia)
While Comet 67P/Machholz is one of the main comets thought to generate the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, that point is still debatable.
What is known is how strange this comet is compared to most other comets in our solar system. And its bizarre qualities are what have led scientists to think this comet was somehow flung far from its home somewhere in interstellar space only to later be caught up in our sun’s gravity.
“First its orbit is about as unround as possible. This alone suggests a capture-origin, but doesn’t prove it,” Berman told Business Insider in an email. “But stranger still is its composition, measured spectroscopically during its close 2007 visit. This shows an almost total lack of carbon and cyanogen, very un-cometlike.”
Comet 67P/Machholz also travels extremely close to the sun during its orbital path. In fact, it gets even closer than the inner-most planet Mercury.
For this reason, Berman says that this comet’s odd chemical composition might be from “its repeated closer approaches to the sun [which] could have broiled away its carbon.”