Check out the Draconids, peaking this Friday, October 8, in the early evening. The moon will set before nightfall, so it won’t be a problem if there’s a cloudless sky. The Draconid shower is active between October 6 and 10.

The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky – just look ‘up’ from the Big Dipper. However, this shower is generally quiet, producing only a few meteors per hour in most years. But if the Dragon awakes – there have been reports of many hundreds of meteors in a single hour.

However, according to NASA, 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 -100 were seen per minute in the U.S. Observers in Europe also saw over 500/hour in 2011.

This meteor shower happens when Earth in its orbit crosses the orbital path of Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. (first discovered in the year 1900). It has a diameter of 1.24 miles. Debris left behind by this comet collides with the Earth’s upper atmosphere to burn up as Draconid meteors. This comet has an orbital period of about 6.6 years. At its most distant point – it’s farther out than the planet Jupiter. At its closest point to the sun it’s about the Earth’s distance from the sun.

In 1985, a mission known as ‘ICE’ (International Cometary Explorer) sent a spacecraft through the comet's plasma tail. It also did a flyby from the comet from around 4,800 miles away on 9/11/1985.

 

 

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