Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Spectacular Draconids

Skywatchers rarely consider the annual Draconid meteor shower a noteworthy phenomenon, often regarding it as lackluster and uninteresting—especially when compared to other meteor showers, such as the Leonids or the Perseids. Not this year though!

On October 8th, Earth will move through the denser regions of the debris left by the Comet Giacobini-Zinner, resulting most likely in a spectacular display of falling stars, estimated to reach 750 meteors per hour. This is many times more than the above mentioned Leonid and Perseid meteor showers’ average. In fact, the Draconids this year are expected to be so abundant that NASA is afraid that they might damage satellites or the International Space Station.

So, it looks that we are in for a real celestial treat—perhaps the most spectacular one until the next meteor storm hits the Earth, which occurs only once in every few decades. Sounds too good to be true? Well, unfortunately there are some downsides:

1. Although the initial calculations are favorable, predicting the behavior of meteor showers is never a 100% reliable.

2. There will be an almost full moon on October 8th, rendering all but the brightest falling stars invisible.

3. While Europe, Africa, and part of Asia will be able to watch the show, the rest of the world will be on the sunny side of Mother Earth when most of the meteors start to fall.

Long story short, if you are lucky enough to live in the right place and have some free time on October 8th, keep an eye on the night sky; it might be worth it!

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