The temperamental annual meteor shower known as the Draconids peaks this week under dark skies, offering skywatchers a nearly perfect chance to see as many as two dozen shooting stars per hour.
The Draconids are predicted to reach peak performance late Thursday night into the predawn hours Friday morning, and some should remain visible Friday night. With a new moon predicted only a few days later on the 13th, the skies should be free from any lunar glare during the best viewing times.
Meteor showers occur when Earth slams into a stream of tiny particles, many the size of sand grains, that fly off a parent comet, which in this case is 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. This cometary debris burns up in our upper atmosphere and creates a streak of light.
A Dragon Show
Like other meteor showers, the Draconids get their name from the constellation where they appear to originate in the sky—in this case Draco, the dragon. The meteors will appear to streak out of Draco nearly overhead for viewers throughout the Northern Hemisphere, around midnight local time.
The constellation is the eighth largest in the entire sky, so large that it wraps itself around the North Star, Polaris. Famous neighbouring constellations include Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, the great and small bears of mythology.
How to See It
The Draconids shower takes place every October, from the 6th to the 10th. The most intense activity is predicted to occur this year on October 9 at 5:40 Universal Time (1:40 a.m. EDT). This bodes well for onlookers in North America, as the peak will coincide with the darkest time of the night for them.
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SOURCE: National Geographic, Andrew Fazekas