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Draconid Meteor Shower

draconoid meteor shower

If you're neither a night owl nor an early riser, the upcoming Draconid meteor shower might be a good one for you to check out.

Unlike many showers, which offer the best viewing in the hours before dawn, the Draconids are best observed this year just after dark.

This weekend, a waning but still-bright gibbous moon will interfere with dark skies, but this October shower is still an easy one to enjoy.

Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8, 2017 are the likely best days to watch. Close to nightfall on those nights, set up a comfy spot outside, under dark skies if you can, face north toward the constellation of Draco the dragon (where the shower gets its name from), and look up.

The best spot will be away from city lights, with an unobstructed view of the sky. Dress for the weather, and bring water (or hot cocoa) and snacks.

If that's too much trouble, if you just take some time to look up at the skies Saturday or Sunday night, you might just see a shooting star .

A dazzling show is not expected this year, though there have been hundreds or even thousands of meteors visible per hour (a rare event called a meteor storm) in past Draconid showers.

If you see a Draconid meteor, you're likely seeing a piece of debris the size of a grain of sand, from Comet 21P/Giacobini/Ziner, as it collides with Earth's atmosphere.

This year, the Draconid meteor shower will peak on Saturday, October 7 and Sunday, October 8.

There is a chance that light from a rising moon may cause issues for skywatchers, but the best option is still to head as far away from light pollution as possible.

draconid meteor shower radiant

What are the Draconids?

Like other meteor showers, the Draconids are caused by Earth’s atmosphere coming into contact with debris rock and dust from a passing comet.

In this case, it’s the comet Giacobini-Zinner, which orbits the sun every 6.6 years.

As the Earth passes through the comet’s tail, some of the rock and dust burns up in our atmosphere, causing a meteor shower of shooting stars.

draconid meteorshower1

How many meteors are there?

Occasionally, the meteor shower produces a huge amount of activity - known as an ‘outburst’ - but that’s not predicted to happen this year.

In 2012, watchers reported up to 1,000 meteors per hour.

“We must warn you that this shower is often a sleeper, even in a dark sky completely free of moonlight,” warns the EarthSky astronomy website.

“But watch out if the Dragon awakes, which is always a possibility!”

Where is the best place to see the Draconids?

The Draconids are best viewed as far north as possible - so the likes of Scotland, Canada and parts of northern Russia are sometimes cited as the best locations.

The best thing to do is to get yourself as far away from light pollution as possible.

You won’t need any specialist equipment to see the meteor shower. Even though the shower comes from a specific constellation in the sky, it should still be viewable in all parts of the sky.

Perhaps invest in a sleeping back or reclining chair so you can lie back and watch the sky comfortably. Just remember to wrap up warm.

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