Draconids meteor shower: When to see shooting stars above the UK this week


The Draconids will peak later this week (Photo by Simon Robling/Getty Images)

This week will see the peak of the Draconids meteor shower, the first of two showers taking place in October.

If you’re keen to see some shooting stars above your house, then you’ll need to mark Thursday evening in your calendar.

Although this year’s Draconids will occur from October 2 to October 16, the official peak takes place on Thursday, October 8. That’s when you’re most likely to see a shooting star as the tiny fragments of space rock burn up in our atmosphere.

The Draconids meteor shower takes place every year in early October when bits of debris from the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

Sometimes as many as 1,000 shooting stars per hour are on display during the Draconids shower, however in reality it’s likely to be more like five or six that you can actually spot. The rest may be too small or fast to see without specialist equipment.

Sadly, the Draconids is one of the least interesting meteor showers of the year. Probably because it’s so unpredictable.

When is the best time to see the Draconids meteor shower?

The early evening high in the sky is where you’ll spot the Draconids (Credits: Carlos De Saa/EPA/REX)

The best time to get out and see the Draconids is after the sun has set in the early evening.

‘While most other meteor showers are best seen in the early hours, the Draconids are best seen in the evening, after nightfall,’ explained Royal Museums Greenwich.

The meteors will come from the direction of the Draco the dragon, the constellation from which they took their name. Draco can been found in the highest point in the sky next to the stars Eltanin and Rastaban.

If you have trouble locating the constellation, there are several great phone apps that will scan the night sky and tell you where to look. SkyView Lite is a free app available for both iOS and Android that can help you out.

On really lucky years, there might be a ‘burst’ of hundreds of thousands of shooting stars falling every hour from the dragon’s head – known as the dragon ‘awakening’.

In 2011, for example, stargazers in Europe were treated to six hundred an hour.

What causes the Draconids meteor shower?

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner (Wikipedia)

‘The Draconids are one of those showers where you either see a bunch of them or none of them,’ Bill Cooke, a meteor expert with Nasa, told Space.com.

It’s the first of two meteor showers this month, with the Orionids set to strike towards the end of October.

Nasa explains: ‘The Draconid meteors are caused when Earth collides with bits of debris shed by periodic comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner (and that’s why this shower used to be called the Giacobinids).

‘The comet has a 6½-year-long orbit that periodically carries it near Jupiter.

‘Ordinarily, celestial dynamicists would expect the planet’s powerful gravity to scatter anything in its vicinity into varying and unpredictable orbits. But they believe that a stream of particles, ejected in 1900, is still largely intact.’

So if you do manage to spot a shooting star later this week, you’ll be witnessing the results of a celestial event that occurred over a century ago.





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