Did The Draconids Perform?

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After weeks of speculation of its intensity, the Draconid/Giacobond meteor shower finally arrived. Some astronomers predicted that this normally quiet meteor shower would deliver up to 1000 meteors per hour at its peak – Were they right?

At approximately 20:00 BST (21:00 UT) on October 8th 2011 the shower started in earnest and many in the UK and Europe looked forward to an evening of meteor watching.

Unfortunately, many people were under thick clouds and missed the display, but there were a few places where the clouds cleared and observers were treated to a memorable spectacle.

I have done many meteorwatch evenings in the past, but this one got exciting very quickly and the uncertainty of the amount of meteors was soon doused.

Many people including myself were popping outside and trying to glimpse meteors through the clouds, but most of the time the Meteorwatch Meteor Live View was being used.

Everything was fairly sedate apart from us all moaning about the weather, but then all of a sudden at approximately 20:30 BST (19:30 UT) The Meteor Live View app on the Meteorwatch website went crazy!

Meteor Live View Credit: meteorwatch.org/ Norman Lockyer Observatory UK

Many people started to get good breaks in the clouds including myself and there were reports of dozens of meteors in just a few short minutes, much to the envy and disappointment of those still clouded over.

At this time the International Meteor Organisation (IMO) reported observations of just over 300 meteors per hour (319 ZHR).

The evening continued and to everybody’s delight (to those who could see meteors), there were many. I saw 3 within a couple of seconds and this continued for about an hour.

Eventually rates started to decline, people saw less and the Meteor Live View started to show less activity.

At approximately 22:00 BST (21:00 UT) meteor activity dropped substantially – The show was over!

The IMO results were posted on their website with rates of just under 350 meteors per hour at the peak of the shower, reported by their observing stations.

Credit: IMO

Did the Dracondids/ Giacobonids live up to expectations in the end? I would say yes, a fairly heavy meteor shower, maybe it could be called a mini storm!

The Draconid Meteor Shower – A Storm is Coming!

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The Draconids are coming! Will this meteor shower produce a storm of observable meteors, or just a minor squall? The Draconid Meteor Show should begin on October 8, 2011 starting at dusk (roughly 19:00 BST) and continue through the evening. Peak activity of this normally minor and quiet shower is estimated to be at 21:00 BST (20:00 UT). There seems to be a wide range of predictions for this year’s shower, but some astronomers believe there could be up to 1,000 meteors per hour, making this a meteor storm!

The Draconids or Giacobinids as they are also known, radiate from a point in the constellation of Draco the Dragon in the Northern hemisphere. In the past, notably in 1933 and 1946, the Draconids turned into a meteor storm with meteor rates of more than one every second!

So, will this year bring us a storm? Astronomers believe so as the predicted path of the Earth through the debris streams of comet 21P/Giacobini-Ziner is favorable for a major storm, similar to what has been seen in previous years. Some reports say NASA is even considering the potential risk of damage to the International Space Station and other satellites due to meteroid impacts.

Some astronomers, on the other hand, are saying this shower could be a dud, with only 5 or so meteors per hour.

Credit: Alex Tudorica

Observers in the UK and Northern Europe are ideally placed to see the peak of the Draconids. Unfortunately the peak occurs in the day time for North America. There will also be a bright Moon which may drown out many but the brightest meteors, but if predictions are correct, you will still see many. You may see Draconid meteors on the 7th an the 9th also, so it is worth going out and checking the skies.

The Constellation Draco in the northern sky in the northern hemisphere.

Draco is a circumpolar constellation visible all night from northern latitudes.

There is no skill or even astronomical knowledge needed to enjoy meteor showers. All you need is to be comfortable, away from bright lights and your eyes. Sit back on a recliner or garden chair and fill your gaze with sky as meteors can appear anywhere as they radiate from the constellation of Draco. For more info on how to enjoy meteor showers visit meteorwatch.org

So what will you see? Draconid meteors are usually slow and bright streaks of light, but if you look away, you can still miss them so keep your gaze on the sky.

There are no guarantees of a meteor storm or even a good meteor shower as these phenomena can be very unpredictable, but the only way to find out is to go outside and look up.

If predictions are correct, you could be in for a spectacular treat and something truly memorable, so don’t miss it. Even if it is cloudy, you can listen to the meteor shower or you can watch as they enter Earths atmosphere

For more information on the Draconids, see the International Meteor Organization’s post on this year’s shower.

Good Luck!

Fireball Meteor
Credit: Pierre Martin of Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.