Draconids are not known for their bright meteor displays. They are so-named because meteors appear to radiate from the northern constellation Draco. Normally the Draconids are a weak shower (leftover from Comet Giacobini-Zinner comet) producing about 10 meteors per hour. However, this shower has proved strongly variable in the past. In 1933 and 1946, the Draconids produced meteor storms. Stars were shooting at rates of 10,000 per hour or even more. The trails are now older and more dispersed, but in October 8, 2011, Earth will have another near head-on collision with a cloud of comet dust, setting off a strong outburst of as many as 750 meteors per hour. The 2011 Draconids could possibly be the most powerful meteor shower since the dazzling Leonids display 10 years ago.
The meteor activity is expected to be enhanced between 16.00 and 21.00 Universal Time (UTC).The best locations from which to view the shower, which is only visible in the northern hemisphere, will be Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The radiant for the Draconids is highest up at nightfall, so watch for these meteors as soon as darkness falls. Draco will be high in the North-West sky, just above and to the left of the north star, Polaris. It’s interesting, that Draconids are unusually slow meteors.
Unfortunately, the waxing gibbous moon will wipe many of these meteors from view (up to 90% of meteors!). And if you look at the Moon it will spoil your night vision, so keep it behind you, ideally blocked out by a building or tree. The meteors will streak across the entire sky so don’t just look at Draco. Tonight you need only your eyes. Binoculars and telescopes are no good for meteorwatching.
In fact, the 2011 Dragonids meteor shower is expected to be so strong that NASA has begun preparing for the risk to satellites orbiting Earth such as the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope.
And don’t forget that meteor showers are notorious for defying predictions, so you never know for sure. If you see nothing – don’t worry – there might be another Dragonid meteor storm in 2013!