A “fire-breathing dragon” could light up our skies this weekend when the annual Draconid meteor shower peaks on Oct. 7.
Draconid meteors radiate from the constellation Draco, meaning dragon, which is located in the northern sky near the Big and Little Dippers. The meteors appear to shoot from the dragon’s head.
The Draconid shower tends to produce only a few meteors per hour, but in certain years there have been hundreds or even thousands per hour. For example, last year’s shower produced more than 600 meteors per hour over Europe.
This year, the shower is expected to be slow as usual, although meteor showers can be unpredictable.
The Draconids peak this year at 10 p.m. Central Daylight Time on Sunday, Oct. 7. Most meteor showers are best viewed in the predawn hours, but the Draconids are unusual because their radiant—Draco’s head—is highest in the sky right after sunset.
So if you want to watch for Draconids in North America, Sunday evening is probably the best time. The middle to far northern latitudes are the places most likely to get a show.
The waning gibbous moon won’t rise until later in the evening, so its light shouldn’t obscure the meteors.
Although the Draconids seem to spew from Draco’s head, they really come from a comet named 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which passes Earth every six years or so. The comet leaves behind a trail of debris called a filament each time it orbits the sun, and Earth crosses paths with these filaments every October.
“Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by,” meteor expert Bill Cooke said in a NASA article.
“Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on—and the fireworks begin.”
This happened most notably in 1933 and 1946, when over 10,000 Draconids per hour filled the sky.
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