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Draconid meteor shower: Don't let daylight or nearly full moon stop you

Draconid meteor shower viewing is potentially much more exciting this year, as Earth is expected to hit some tendrils of comet dust head-on. But the peak is Saturday afternoon.

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Scientists have recorded at least two occasions during the last century when the Draconids topped 10,000 meteors an hour.

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The unusually intense shower poses an increased risk to satellites, Dr. Cooke notes. Some satellites can ride out the storm, while others – those with cameras or telescopes – likely will be turned so the delicate optics face away from the oncoming dust grains.

As for the International Space Station, he adds, it's sufficiently armored to withstand hits from the Draconids. But, he adds, don't look for any astronauts to conduct spacewalks during the shower.

"Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by," Cooke said in a statement beforehand. "Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on – and the fireworks begin."

Although for North American observers, the peak comes during daylight, Peter Jenniskens, with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., notes that some of the brightest meteors could still be visible with binoculars. He suggests looking north, between 10 and 40 degrees above the horizon, especially around 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

He also suggests that amateur astronomers looking at the sliver of darkness on the lunar surface that reaches to the moon's north pole may see bright flashes as meteoroids strike the lunar surface and kick up debris.

Dr. Jenniskens is taking part in an international campaign to observe the shower, using instruments the team will be running in a small jet flying out of Kiruna, Sweden. One goal is to see whether or not the 1900 event marked the comet's initial eruption. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it opportunity. Earth won't encounter the 1900 stream again for another 40 years.

Meanwhile, students in Bishop, Calif., are taking a different tack. Under a NASA science-education program, they will be lofting a weather balloon with a low-light camera in hopes that the balloon will reach the stratosphere and the camera snaps photos of the meteoroids as they enter the atmosphere.

"I hope they catch some Draconid fireballs for us to analyze," NASA's Cooke says. "They could be the only ones we get."

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