Stargazers are in for a treat this week as the annual Draconid meteor shower peaks just ahead of a new moon. Thanks to the dark skies, meteor watchers will have a lucky chance to watch the show without worrying about the moon’s glare.
This year, the Draconid meteor shower will peak late Thursday night and continue into Friday morning. If skies stay clear, the meteors should still be visible Friday night, Andrew Fazekas writes for National Geographic.
Every 6.6 years, a comet called 21P/Giacobini-Zinner orbits the solar system, leaving trails of tiny particles in its wake. While the Earth occasionally drifts into these streams throughout the year, the annual meteor display comes from a massive cloud of debris the comet released in 1900, according to a NASA description.
Like most meteor showers, the Draconids get their name from the constellation that they appear to originate—in this case, the Draco constellation in the Northern Hemisphere.
Typically, about 10 to 20 meteors an hour can be seen during the shower's peak, but there have been several times during the last hundred years when hundreds of meteors blazed the skies. During the 2011 Draconids, the comet swung past the sun, ejecting more debris than usual. NASA astronomers recorded rates of up to 300 meteor strikes that year, but the brightness of the moon blocked out all but the most spectacular impacts, Fazekas writes.
While the Draconids are a treat to watch from the ground, satellite operators must protect sensitive equipment from the meteor shower's sandblast. Some satellites are shielded enough to ride out the storm, but others may have to maneuver their more delicate equipment—like cameras—away from the cloud, according to NASA.
There’s no need to worry about the astronauts on the International Space Station, though: The station is heavily shielded against meteors and the astronauts won’t set foot outside until after the shower subsides.
“Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by,” NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office chief Bill Cooke said in a 2011 statement. “Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on—and the fireworks begin.”
The Draconids’ peak will start around 1:40 a.m. EST Thursday night, with the best viewing weather in the mid-Atlantic Seacoast, Tennessee Valley and the northern plains and Rockies, according to Accuweather.com. But don't worry if the skies are too cloudy tonight—the Orionid meteor shower is scheduled for later this month on October 21 and 22.