The annual Draconid meteor shower peaks in October, but don’t get your hopes up for a spectacular sky show.
Even at their peak — which, this year, occurs Tueday, Oct. 9 — the Draconids are usually modest, generating just a few meteors per hour.
Still, it’s worth looking up, because the shower occasionally puts on an incredible display.
In 1933, for example, skywatchers in Europe saw up to 500 Draconids per minute, according to Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao.
And observers throughout the Western United States saw thousands of Draconids per hour at the shower’s peak in 1946, he added.
The Draconids occur when Earth plows through the stream of debris shed over the eons by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.
Dramatic outbursts like those of 1933 and 1946 — and lesser ones in 1926, 1952, 1985, 1998 and 2011 — seem “to occur only when the Earth passes just inside Comet Giacobini-Zinner’s orbit shortly after the comet itself has gone by,” Rao wrote.
Experts aren’t predicting that such a close pass will happen this year. So, again: Don’t expect a dazzling Draconid storm. In fact, according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, the meteors will likely not be noticeable over the normal background of 5-8 meteors per hour.
“The Draconids are one of those showers where you either see a bunch of them or none of them, and no outburst is predicted this year so Draconid activity is expected to be extremely weak; not even noticeable to the casual observer,” Cooke told Space.com.
“Of course this can change — as people do their predictions, things change. I’ll keep you posted if they do.”
Most meteor showers are best viewed in the early morning hours. But to maximize your Draconid experience, start observing in the evening this weekend, as soon as it gets dark.
That’s because the constellation Draco — the shower’s “radiant,” or point from which the meteors appear to radiate — is highest in the sky shortly after nightfall.
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