Draconid Meteor Shower May Spice Up Weekend Sky

Draconid meteors stream from the head of Draco, one fist held at arm’s length above the bright star Vega in the Summer Triangle. This map shows the sky in early October around 8 p.m. local time. North and west are the best directions to watch. Created with Stellarium

Keep an eye out for the annual Draconid meteor shower this weekend. It’s active starting tomorrow through Tuesday nights Oct. 7-9. While only a few meteors per hour are expected, it’s possible more may show. Last year, when Earth passed through a thicker filament of Draconid dust, rates briefly reached 300 per hour for European observers.

Draconids are very slow traveling and appear to emanate from near the head of Draco the Dragon, a small trapezoid of stars nicknamed the “Lozenge”. Every year in early October the Earth passes through the debris trail left behind by Comet Giacobini-Zinner. The comet orbits the sun with a period of 6.6 years. During each pass through the inner solar system, it sheds a trail of dust along its path. As Earth’s orbit and debris cloud intersect, bits of dust smack our atmospheric “windshield” and burn up as meteors.

Dust shed from the tail and coma of Comet Giacobini-Zinner is responsible for the Draconid meteor shower. Credit: N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Meteors can occur anywhere in the sky, but you’ll know it’s a Draconid if you can trace its path back to the Dragon’s Head. The shower favors northern hemisphere sky watchers with the best viewing times during the early evening hours as soon as it gets dark. That’s when the meteor radiant is highest.

Grab a warm blanket, face north or west and relax in a comfy chair. If you live in the northern U.S. and Canada, there’s a small chance for auroras Monday night from a recent solar flare. Maybe you’ll get lucky and see both sky shows!

** UPDATE Mon. Oct. 8 — A major outburst of the Draconids is happening right now. Click HERE to get the latest.

6 Responses

  1. lynn

    HI Bob
    I should of asked you yesterday but recently there has been really close approaches of neo’s like the one we have today and the LD has not been that much far away from us, do you think this is an increase lately with really close approaches or is that normal and been like this over the years as I have really only started checking the Jpl website a year ago so I wouldn’t know what close approach data was like previous to that. Thanks Bob if you can help just getting a bit worried by all these ones recently.

    1. astrobob

      We’re seeing more of them now that say 30 years ago for several reasons: much better equipment, dedicated professional surveys (human and robotic) that scan the sky looking for these Earth-approaching asteroids and superb efforts by amateur astronomers using the latest digital technologies. The number of close flybys has probably been the same for hundreds if not thousands of years – we’re just looking more closely now and finding what’s out there.

  2. Larry

    Early am shortly after dawn and before the sun came up, I saw a white line in the eastern sky. The date was October 6. Looked at it through binoculars and it appeared to have two tails behind it. It slowly made it’s way over the eastern horizon and took maybe a half hour. Any idea what I was looking at?

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