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Lackluster Meteor Shower Sets Stage for Big Show in 2011

The Earthwill pass through the cast-off remnants of an ancient comet Friday(Oct. 8),but the resulting meteor shower will be lackluster at best, expertssay. Yetthe event sets the stage for a truly remarkable shooting star displayin 2011.

The sourceof this annual October meteor display, called the Draconid meteorshower, isdust and debris leftover from Comet Giacobini-Zinner.

The Draconidmeteor shower has a reputation for disappointing skywatcherswithlackluster displays, unlike the spectacular sky shows that sometimesaccompanythe annual Perseidmeteor shower in August and the Leonid shower inNovember.  [BestLeonid Meteor Shower Photos]

This year,according to skwatching experts, will be no different. But by allaccounts,2011 will be a year to remember for the Draconids.

"Thisyear, forecasters expect Earth to narrowly miss several of the debrisstreams,resulting in no appreciable display for 2010,",a website dedicated to monitoring space weather and sky events. "Nextyear, however, could be different. On Oct.8, 2011, Earth will have a nearhead-on collision with a tendril of dust, setting off a strong outburstof asmany as 750 meteors per hour."

In fact, the2011 Draconid meteor shower is expected to be so astounding that NASAhasalready begun preparing for the riskto satellites orbiting Earth such as the International SpaceStation orHubble Space Telescope.

"We'realready working with NASA programs to deal with spacecraft risk," saidWilliam Cooke, a scientist with the Meteoroid Environment Office atNASA'sMarshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., during an in June. "I imagine when the word gets out there will be aDraconid outburst, I'll get the usual calls from Comsat companies aswell asgovernment space programs."

In additionto the chance of dings, there is the possibility of electrostaticdischarges associatedwith the collision between a meteoroid and a satellite, Cooke said.Suchdischarges can account for a significant fraction of spacecraftanomaliesduring meteor showers, he added.

While thisyear's Draconid meteor shower will likely be a bust, the 2011 Draconidsshouldbe a sight to behold, forecasters said. 

The bestvantage points will be Europe, Africa and the Middle East,Spaceweather.comreported.

The 2011Draconids could possibly be the most powerful meteor shower since thedazzlingLeonids display 10 years ago, the website added.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.