The dragon breathes fire the next few nights. That’s because the Draconid meteor shower should be at its best tomorrow night. The best time to look is in the evening, after the sky gets good and dark.
The meteors are bits of debris from Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which orbits the Sun once every six-and-a-half years. Comets shed tiny grains of dust as they move through space. Over time, these grains spread out along the comet’s path. When Earth sweeps through this path, the grains plunge into the atmosphere and vaporize, creating the streaks of light known as meteors. In this case, the meteors appear to “rain” from the direction of Draco — hence the shower’s name.
Giacobini-Zinner probably entered our region of the solar system fairly recently, so its dusty debris is still clustered near the comet. So depending on how far we are from the comet, the number of meteors varies dramatically. In 1946, skywatchers in the southwestern U.S. recorded rates of up to 10,000 meteors an hour. And just two years ago, the shower reached several hundred meteors an hour.
We won’t see anything like that this year. But the shower is a bit unpredictable, so it’s still worth a look — especially since the Moon won’t be around to spoil the show.
To give the shower a try, find a dark but safe skywatching site away from city lights. The meteors are concentrated in the north, but they can appear just about anywhere in the sky — the fiery breath of the dragon.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.