The Draconid meteor shower is peaking tomorrow and it is probably one of my favorite showers. This would surprise most astronomers because recently it doesn’t show too many meteors per hour (even at its peak). But the Draconids are one of the only showers you can view during reasonable times at night. The shower is highest in the sky during the evening or right after twilight so you can actually partake in shooting star hunting with some of your younger family members! (and you don’t have to wake up at a ridiculous time like most predawn showers)
WHEN is it?
The peak of the Draconids is on October 7th this year. The good news is that the constellation will be up before the sun sets so that means as soon as the sun sets you can start searching for meteors! The bad news is the Moon doesn’t set until 11:00pm so the meteors will have to be pretty bright to outshine the Moon. The Moon will be low in the sky though and it is only a waxing crescent. The peak is highly variable (as high as 1000 meteors per hour!) but this year it is expected to be closer to 10-20 meteors per hour.
WHERE should you look?
If you are in the Northern Hemisphere you can actually just look up. The constellation Draco the Dragon (where the Draconids get their name from) is actually right next to Ursa Minor meaning it is right by the North Star. So if you are in the souther hemisphere, look in the direction North/NorthEast. If you aren’t that familiar with the sky, don’t worry; you can use an app (like the one I suggested). Search for Draco and use the app to figure out where the constellation is at that moment. You can even figure out when it rises and sets. If you use the app I do, make sure you turn on sky object trajectories and use that as a guide for where the star (or constellation) will be and at what time. It should be on automatically, but in case it is not, it is the button on the upper right of the settings (as shown on the right).
WHAT are the meteors made of?
The Draconids are actually the only meteor shower that also goes by its comet’s name. Sometimes this meteor shower is referred to as the Giacobinids, after the short period comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner. The debris that comes raining down every early October is the bits of material that the Sun burnt off of this comet and left in the path of Earth’s Orbit. The comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner makes an orbit around the sun every 7 years. Its next swing by is in 2018.
Slooh will be hosting a show on their webpage to celebrate this event. It will include information from astronomers and historians as you watch the shower on their telescopes around the globe! The show starts at 8:00 pm EDT on the 7th (00:00 GMT 8/10); you can tune in here.
NEXT ON THE LINEUP: The Orionids October 21st