If you want to see “shooting stars” this week just look to the northern night sky right after dark.
This week sees the peak of the Draconid meteor shower, an annual event that sees around 10 “shooting stars” per hour appear in the night sky.
Like all meteor showers, it’s best seen in dark skies and requires patience, but while most such displays are best viewed after midnight, there’s something very different about the Draconids.
The one can be viewed right after dark. In fact, it’s going to be at its best right through the night—and there’s a reason for that.
Here’s everything you need to know about seeing “shooting stars” during this peaks Draconid meteor shower.
What is the Draconid meteor shower?
Occurring from October 6-10, but peaking after dark midnight on Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the Draconid meteor shower is an annual event.
What causes the Draconid meteor shower?
It’s caused by a comet. Comets leave a trail meteoroids—debris and dust—as they travel through space. When a comet intersects Earth’s orbital path around the Sun it leaves meteoroids that Earth will inevitably have to travel through on its next orbit of the Sun.
The culprit this time is Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which was last in the Solar System in 2018 and will return again in 2025. So this is a meteor shower that gets frequently refreshed, though it’s a slight event compared to other meteor showers.
Why is it called the Draconid meteor shower?
Meteor showers are always named after the specific point of the night sky that its “shooting stars” appear to originate from. Although they can appear anywhere in the night sky as streaks of fast-moving lights, if you race those streaks back you’ll get to a common origin—the meteor shower’s radiant point.
For this meteor shower the radiant is the constellation of Draco, the dragon or serpent, which is sometimes called the “Dragon of the North.”
Why are the Draconids visible all night?
That’s because the constellation of Draco is circumpolar. That means it’s visible all night because—like the Big Dipper—it appears to revolve around Polaris, the “North Star,” which Earth’s north pole points at. Consequently, Draco is above the horizon all night so its “shooting stars” are, too.
Where to look to see Draconids ‘shooting stars’
Draco is actually tricky to find in the night sky despite it being “up” all night since it’s made-up of stars that aren’t too bright. It’s a huge constellation close to Hercules, Cepheus , Ursa Minor and Ursa Major—the latter home to the Big Dipper.
So just look above the Big Dipper—now low on the northern horizon after dark—if you want to know where the “shooting stars” are coming from. However, they can appear anywhere in the sky. Just make sure you are away from artificial light.
Are ‘shooting stars’ dangerous?
No—they’re merely very tiny meteoroids that Earth’s atmosphere busts into as it orbits the Sun. They charge-up as they hot that atmosphere and release photons of light as they discharge.
When is the next meteor shower?
There are two meteor showers in October, with the Draconids followed soon after by the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks in the very early hours of Wednesday, October 21, 2020. The result of debris left in the Solar System by Halley’s Comet, expect to see about between 10 and 20 “shooting stars” per hour during that one.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.