The Draconid meteor shower is the sleepiest of the year, usually offering only a handful of shooting stars an hour. But it’s the one skygazers root and cheer for, perhaps in hopes of waking Draco the Dragon for a dazzling display. That’s rare — and there is only a sliver of a chance that will happen during the 2018 peak on Oct. 7-8 — but a new moon on the 9th guarantees the skies over Michigan will be dark.
It all depends on the weather, of course. Peak activity for the Draconids is still a week away, but the forecast for metro Detroit shows some cloud activity for next weekend.
The Draconids are the first of two meteor showers this month. The Orionids, which produce a more reliable shooting star show, peaks later in the month. They might produce a surprise this year — more about that in a bit.
The Draconids are such slow movers — crawling along, when compared with faster fireballs, at 40,000 miles per hour — and many burn out before they reach the Earth’s atmosphere. In typical years, the Draconid meteor shower produce about five falling stars an hour, but when Draco spits fire — as occurred in 1946, when observers across the western United States reported seeing thousands of fireballs an hour. In 2011, the Draconids produced a moderate outburst.
The Draconids are faint, and the casual observer might not notice them. Because they move so slowly, only the largest produce enough light to be seen.
Those Draconid outbursts seem to occur only when the Earth passes just inside the orbit of Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, the shower’s parent, shortly after the comet itself goes by, according to Joe Rao, a skywatching columnist for Space.com. This year, that happened on Sept. 10, which some experts said could make for at least elevated levels of meteors.
The neat thing about this shower is the meteors start flying right after sunset, unlike most showers, which are most active around dawn. They’ll continue to fly until around midnight. Sometimes called the Giacobinids, the Draconid meteor shower radiates from the fiery mouth of the northern constellation Draco the Dragon, which is highest in the sky at nightfall. The meteors seem to emit from Draco’s fiery mouth.
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