As the northern hemisphere starts feeling the chill of fall, those willing to brave the first frosty nights could catch a show. The annual Draconid and Orionid showers take place just a few weeks apart, and both come from the remains of comets as the Earth swings through fields of debris left behind from the space rocks' trips through our solar system.
Starting at sundown tomorrow night, the Draconid meteor shower will reach its peak. While usually less showy than some, the Draconids do occasionally flare up from time to time, according to the astronomers at the Slooh telescope network. The vibrant moon may interfere with the show, but it's worth taking a peek, EarthSky’s Deborah Byrd and Bruce McClure report. Though the meteors appear to originate from the Draco constellation, they are, in fact, the remnants of the periodic Comet 21/P Giacobini-Zinner, which swings through the solar system every 6.6 years, leaving a trail of dust, ice and rock in its wake.
Many meteor showers are best seen just before dawn, which can make them tricky for night owls to spot. But this isn't the case for the Draconids: as Byrd and McClure report, this shower is best seen in the evening just after sundown thanks to Draco’s position in the northern sky. While more sluggish than other showers, the Draconids should provide a fun show Friday night. The slow-moving meteors will zoom all over the night sky, emanating from the dragon-shaped constellation.
The stargazing fun for the month won’t stop here. Throughout October Earth is also swinging through the deepest part of yet another comet’s trail: Halley’s Comet. While the famous comet won’t be visible in the night skies until July 2061, the Orionids sparkle through the predawn skies every year, NASA reports.
Named after their place of origin in the constellation Orion the Hunter, most seem to shoot straight from its second most vibrant star, Betelgeuse. This year, however, the shower's peak on October 21 coincides with a full moon, which will sadly obscure most of these fast-moving sparklers, report Byrd and McClure. So start searching before the moon reaches it's full glow on October 15. Set your alarm clocks early and keep your eyes trained to the skies.