Draconids arrive each year around the start of October, casting streaks of light across the night sky. Although this is not the most active of meteor showers, astronomers still expect a handful of shooting stars to light up the night. And during tonight’s peak, the meteor shower will be most intense.
What is the Draconid meteor shower?
The Draconids are the first of two annual meteor showers that peak in October.
The shower occurs when our planet intersects the dusty orbit of the Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.
The US space agency NASA said: “Each time that Giacobini-Zinner returns to the inner solar system its nucleus sprays ice and rock into space.
“This debris stream results in an annual meteor shower: the Draconids, which take place each year in early October.”
The meteors appear to radiate from the northern constellation Draco the Dragon, hence their name.
When is the Draconid meteor shower’s peak?
Astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich said the shower will peak tonight (Thursday, October 8).
The peak marks the point when the maximum number of shooting stars will streak across the sky.
And although the Draconids only produce about 10 meteors an hour, past years have been marked by so-called meteor storms.
NASA said: “A meteor storm is observed when one thousand or more meteors are seen per hour at the location of the observer.
“During its peak in 1933, 500 Draconid meteors were seen per minute in Europe. 1946 was also a good year for the Draconids, where 50 to 100 were seen per minute in the US.”
What is the best time to see the Draconid meteor shower?
Most meteor showers are best seen in pitch-black darkness between midnight and dawn.
The Draconids, however, are best seen in the evening because of their radiant point in the Northern Hemisphere.
The radiant or apparent point of entry into the sky sits in the constellation Draco the Dragon.
This constellation is at its highest point around nightfall and will drop lower the later at night it is.
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The Royal Observatory said: “While most other meteor showers are best seen in the early hours, the Draconids are best seen in the evening, after nightfall.”
When viewed from London tonight, for example, the Sun will set at about 6.21pm BST.
And if you are hoping to catch a glimpse of the shooting stars tonight, be sure to check your local weather forecast for clouds.
Meteor showers also like the dark, so meteor hunting from a major city is less than ideal, due to light pollution.
The Royal Observatory said: “Meteor showers are best seen with a good, clear view of the stars on a night with no clouds.
“Try to find somewhere with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution.
“Make sure there are no direct sources of light in your eyes, so that you can fully adapt to the local conditions and ensure that fainter meteors become visible.
“There’s no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope; just look up with your own eyes to take in the widest possible view of the sky.”
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