The Draconid Meteor Shower is set to peak this weekend, sending up to 10 shooting stars flying across the sky over Britain every hour.
The annual display will be most visible in the Northern Hemisphere on Saturday (October 8), but meteors will begin to appear from tonight (October 6) and may be visible until Monday.
To get the best possible view, experts suggest finding a place with clear skies and away from sources of light pollution like big cities.
“While most other meteor showers are best seen in the early hours, the Draconids are best seen in the evening, after dark,” said the Royal Museums Greenwich.
Meteor showers occur when Earth travels through a cloud of comet debris and sets off a light show for viewers on Earth.
The Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the remnants of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner – a small comet with a diameter of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers).
Giacobini-Zinner deposits fresh pieces of debris every 6.6 years as it passes on its orbit through the inner solar system, and the meteors form when Earth passes through this debris field.
Unfortunately, there is also a full moon this year at roughly the same time, so viewing conditions will be poor.
Meteor showers occur when Earth travels through a cloud of comet debris. In this case, the Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the remnants of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner. Pictured, the night sky over Russky Island under the Drakonids
The Draconid Meteor Shower
The Draconid meteors are caused when Earth collides from debris ejected by comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.
The comet has a six-and-a-half-year orbit that periodically brings it close to Jupiter.
The rocks, stones and dust particles, which can be as small as a grain of sand, enter the atmosphere and friction with air molecules causes them to emit bright light.
The best way to see the show is by going as far away from light pollution as possible.
They are best seen in the evening rather than before dawn, as this is when the constellation Draco Draco – where the meteors appear to come from – is highest in the sky.
You don’t need any special equipment to see the Draconid meteor shower from the UK – observers just need to look up unaided and get the widest possible view of the sky.
In general, those in North America, Europe and Asia are best placed to see the Draconids.
The best places in the UK include the famous stargazing sites, also known as the three ‘Dark Sky Reserves – Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Exmoor national parks.
However, you will need to find an area with clear skies if you want a chance to see shooting stars.
The Met Office is forecasting an autumnal mix of wind and rain across much of the UK over the next few days, with some interludes of calmer weather.
Saturday is likely to be drier for most with the possibility of just a few showers in the north.
“There will be varying amounts of cloud on Saturday with perhaps the best chance of clearer skies to the south and east,” Met Office Nicola Maxey told Mail Online.
However, she warned that the brightness of the full moon, which will be in the sky all night, could make viewing difficult.
“The biggest problem on Saturday night will probably be the full moon if the cloud clears, which could make it harder to spot the meteors,” she said.
The Draconid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation Draco. It is best seen in the evening just after sunset. The meteors fly in all directions through the sky when they arrive
TIPS FOR SEEING A METEOR SHOWER
Meteor showers are best viewed with a good, clear view of the stars on a cloudless night.
Try to find a place with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution
Make sure there are no direct light sources in your eyes so you can fully adjust to local conditions and ensure fainter meteors become visible.
There is no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope; just look up with your own eyes to get the widest possible view of the sky.
Source: Royal Observatory Greenwich
The Draconid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation Draco, which is its bright point—the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to emanate.
Draco is a long and winding constellation, easily visible to people in the Northern Hemisphere, in the northern sky. It can be found lying above the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star.
The Draconids are best seen in the Northern Hemisphere, although it is still possible to see them in the Southern Hemisphere, especially if they are close to the equator.
This is because the beam point of the shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco in the northern sky.
The speed of meteors during the peak of the Draconid shower depends on which part of the comet’s track Earth’s orbit intersects in a given year, according to the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
The observatory describes the Draconids as ‘variable’, meaning you can never be sure what kind of light display you’ll get.
“In recent years, the Draconids have not produced any particular bursts of activity,” the Royal Observatory Greenwich says on its website.
“But in 1933 and 1946 the Draconids produced some of the most active displays of the 20th century.”
The Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the remnants of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner – a small comet with a diameter of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers). The comet is pictured here in a shot by the Kitt Peak 0.9-m telescope on October 31, 1998
The shower takes its name from the constellation Draco, from which in the night sky they appear to originate, which can be seen lying above the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star
REMAINING METEOR SHOWERS IN 2022
- Draconids – 8-9 October peak
- Orionids – October 21 peak
- Taurids – November 12 peak
- Leonids – November 17-18 peak
- Geminids – December 14 peak
- Clock pages – 22.-23. December peak
It’s worth noting that 2011 and 2018 saw more Draconid activity than expected, so 2022 could be the year they put on a spectacular show.
The National Space Center says the Draconids typically produce somewhere between five and 10 meteors per hour, but in past displays there have been thousands per hour.
As the meteors made of ice and dust enter our atmosphere, they begin to burn up – putting on a light show for viewers, but this means most never reach the ground.
The beautiful streaks seen in the night sky may actually be caused by cosmic particles as small as a grain of sand.
If the particle is larger than a grape, it will produce a fireball and will be accompanied by a persistent afterglow.
The Draconid Meteor Shower, sometimes referred to as the Giacobinids, is one of two meteor showers that grace the skies in October each year.
The other is the Orionids, which are set to peak in the sky on the night of October 21 between midnight and dawn.
Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
ONE comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
ONE meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This waste itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small that they evaporate in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid reaches Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites usually originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.