The following few evenings, on the 7th and 8th of October, 2018, the fiery mouth of the constellation Draco the Dragon, are going to be spitting out meteors, which are also known as shooting stars.
The Draconid meteor shower peaks in October each year, and for this year, it is predicted to create the largest number of meteors on the evening and not after midnight. It is worth looking up, as the shower occasionally puts on an incredible display.
This shower favors the Northern Hemisphere, so be forewarned. Even in the northern latitudes, the Draconids are typically a very modest shower, maybe offering just a handful of slow-moving meteors per hour.
For example, in 1933, the skywatchers in Europe saw up to 500 Draconids per minute, and observers throughout the Western United States have seen more than thousands of Draconids per hour at the peak of the shower in 1946. In October 2011, seven years ago, people all over the world saw an increased number of Draconid meteors, despite the bright moon which also happened that night. And, European observers only saw over 600 meteors per hour the same year.
The Draconid meteor shower might offer an elevated number of meteors this year too.
The Draconids occur when Earth plows through the stream of debris shed over the eons by the parent body of the Draconids, the Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which reaches perihelion, which is the closest point to the Sun’ orbit, occurring less than one month before the expected peak of the Draconid shower. Experts predict that such a close pass will happen this year too.
The Draconids are one of those showers where you either see a bunch of them or none of them. Fortunately, watching the shower is funny, even if you see only a few of them. All you need to do is spend an hour or two under a dark, as well as open sky, lying down with your feet pointed northward. Most meteor showers are best after midnight, but this shower is different, best viewed in the evening hours.
Most of the meteor showers are named for the constellation from which the meteors radiate on the dome of the sky.
However, the Draconids are sometimes also called Giacobinids, in honor of the man that first sighted the comet which spawned this meteor shower. Michel Giacobini made the discovery of this comet on the 20th of December, 1900. However, another sighting in 1913 added the name Zinner to that of the comet.
Giacobini-Zinner is actually a periodic comet, which returns every six years and four months. Tracking this comet, as well as noting this October meteor shower, helped astronomers all over the world to figure out how to predict meteor showers in 1915.
This year, the Draconid meteor shower is probably going to be at its best on the evening of the 7th and 8th of October, as we mentioned. There is no need to wait until after midnight, as the radiant is highest in the evening hours. No one expects a Draconid storm this time, but it will be funny to watch and see.
Meteor showers are part of nature and they are not entirely predictable.
Under normal conditions, when astronomers speak of a meteor shower peaking, it is similar to a weather forecast saying: The heaviest rain/snow is predicted for 9 p.m.
That prediction is not a certainty, but it is more like an educated guess, and it might not come to pass. Or it might also happen for you, but not for other people across town. It is a good analogy to the 2011 Draconids, which were best seen over the entire European continent, but less good, for instance over North America.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock (licensed by IBMN)/By Triff