Look up this weekend! Draconid Meteor Shower to light up the sky with 10 shooting stars an hour


The Draconid Meteor Shower is set to peak this weekend, sending up to 10 shooting stars flying through skies over the UK every hour. 

The annual display will be most visible in the Northern Hemisphere on Saturday (8 October), but meteors will start appearing from tonight (6 October) and could 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 nightfall,’ said Royal Museums Greenwich.

Meteor showers are caused when the Earth travels through a cloud of cometary debris, putting on a light show for viewers on the ground.  

The Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the debris of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner – a small comet with a diameter of 1.24 miles (2 kilometres). 

Giacobini-Zinner lays down fresh pieces of debris every 6.6 years as it passes on its orbit through the inner solar system, and the meteors are formed when Earth passes through this debris field. 

Unfortunately, there’s also a full moon this year at around the same time, so viewing conditions are not ideal. 

‘The glare of the Moon will certainly make the skies less dark which is not ideal for stargazing generally, however meteors are still bright enough to see easily despite the shine of the Moon,’ Jake Foster, Public Astronomy Officer at Royal Museums Greenwich told MailOnline.

Meteor showers are caused when the Earth travels through a cloud of cometary debris. In this case, the Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the debris of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner. Pictured, the night sky over Russky Island during the Draconids

The Draconid Meteor Shower

The Draconid meteors are caused when Earth collides from debris shed by comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

The comet has a six and a half year long orbit that periodically carries it near 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 cause them to give off bright light. 

The best way to see the show is by heading as far away from light pollution as possible.

They are best seen in the evening instead of before dawn as this is when the constellation Draco the Dragon – 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 take in the widest possible view of the sky.

Generally, those in Northern America, Europe and Asia are the best situated to see the Draconids. 

The best places in the UK include the renowned stargazing locations, also known as the three ‘Dark Sky Reserves – Snowdonia, Brecon Beacons and Exmoor national parks. 

However, you’ll need to find an area with clear skies if you want a chance of seeing shooting stars. 

The Met Office is forecasting an autumnal mix of wind and rain for much of the UK over the next few days, with some interludes of calmer weather. 

Saturday is likely to be drier for most, with a chance 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 towards the south and east,’ Nicola Maxey at the Met Office told Mail Online.

However, she warned that the brightness of the full moon, which will be in the sky throughout the night, could mave viewing tricky. 

‘The main problem on Saturday night will probably be the full Moon, if the cloud clears, which might make it harder to spot the meteors,’ she said.

The Draconid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation of Draco. It is best viewed in the evening just after sunset. The meteors fly in all directions through the sky when they arrive

The Draconid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation of Draco. It is best viewed in the evening just after sunset. The meteors fly in all directions through the sky when they arrive

TIPS TO SEE A METEOR SHOWER 

Meteor showers are best seen with a good, clear view of the stars on a night with no clouds. 

Try to find somewhere with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and very little light pollution

Make sure there are no direct sources of light in your eyes, so that you can fully adapt to the local conditions and ensure that fainter meteors become visible. 

There’s no advantage to using binoculars or a telescope; just look up with your own eyes to take in the widest possible view of the sky.

Source: Royal Observatory Greenwich 

The Draconid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation of Draco, which is its radiant point – the point in the sky the meteors appear to come from. 

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, though it is still possible to see them in the Southern Hemisphere, especially if close to the equator. 

That’s because the radiant point for the shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco in the northern sky.

The rate of meteors during the Draconid shower’s peak depends upon which part of the comet’s trail the Earth orbit intersects on any given year, according to Royal Observatory Greenwich.

‘This year’s Draconids will be relatively quiet compared to the more active meteor showers of the year,’ Foster told MailOnline. 

‘This has been the case for the past few years as we have been passing through a sparser region of its associated comet’s path.’ 

However, he added that the Giacobini-Zinner comet orbits the Sun once every 6.6 years, replenishing its path with fresh meteoroids as it passes through the inner solar system.

‘This means that every 7 years or so the Draconids are far more intense, capable of producing hundreds of meteors per hour,’ he said.

‘This is likely to happen again in 2025, as Comet Giacobini-Zinner comes close to the Sun once more. Some refer to these events as the awakening of the dragon.’

The Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the debris 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 Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the debris 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 of Draco, from where in the night sky they seem to originate, which can be spotted lying above the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star

The shower takes its name from the constellation of Draco, from where in the night sky they seem to originate, which can be spotted lying above the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star

REMAINING METEOR SHOWERS IN 2022 

  • Draconids – October 8-9 peak 
  • Orionids – October 21 peak
  • Taurids – November 12 peak
  • Leonids – November 17-18 peak 
  • Geminids – December 14 peak 
  • Ursids – December 22-23 peak 

The observatory describes the Draconids as ‘variable’, meaning you can never be entirely sure what kind of light display you’re going to get. 

‘In recent years, the Draconids have not produced any particular outbursts in activity,’ Royal Observatory Greenwich says on its website.

‘However, in 1933 and 1946 the Draconids produced some of the most active displays in the 20th century.’  

National Space Centre says the Draconids typically produce somewhere between five and 10 meteors an 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 meaning that most never reach the ground. 

The beautiful streaks seen in the night sky can 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 every 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.

A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.

A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.

This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.

If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.

Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.

For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.

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