Skywatchers have a chance to see some "shooting stars" this week with the annual Draconid meteor shower. The meteor display, which peaks overnight on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 8 and 9) is caused by the remains of a comet raining down on Earth.
Weather permitting, skywatchers can see the Draconid meteor shower radiating out from the constellation Draco (the Dragon) near the triangle formed by the stars Deneb, Altair and Vega. NASA estimates that, on average, about 10 to 20 meteors per hour will be visible during the Draconids.
What's more, according to EarthSky.org, the moon will be just a faint crescent, allowing for excellent views of the shower.
While the Draconids appear to be coming from the constellation Draco, in reality they are remnants of debris shed by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, which orbits the sun once every 6.5 years. Around 1900, according to a NASA description, the comet ejected a stream of particles that intersects Earth's orbit, spawning the annual meteor display.
To watch a meteor shower, no special equipment is needed. Simply take a lawn chair, bundle up against the cold if you are in chillier parts of the United States, Europe or Canada, and sit outside watching the sky.
You do need to pick a viewing spot well away from city lights, which can reduce the number of meteors visible during the night. Binoculars or telescopes are not of much use because meteors travel unpredictably and typically only last a couple of seconds.
While a meteor looks spectacular in the sky, a shower like the Draconids does not have particles big enough to make it all the way down to Earth. These particles burn up high in the atmosphere and are generally slow moving, distinguishing them from other random meteors you may see throughout the evening.
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