Today should be a thrilling one for skywatchers. After the success of NASA’s asteroid collision mission last week, the Draconid meteor shower will light up the night skies on October 8 and 9.
Draconids occur when Earth collides with the comet 21P/Giacobini-trail Zinner’s of millions of tiny, icy rocks. This 1.24-mile-wide comet makes an orbital crossing of Earth once every 6.25 years, with its most recent close approach occurring in September 2018.
As spectacular as the meteor shower will be today, it will be somewhat overshadowed by the full moon and the annual Hunter’s Moon. During the Draconids, skywatchers can expect to see around 10–20 meteors per hour but the night sky is likely to be too bright this year to see many.
Go to a dark spot away from the lights of a city or town and let the eyes adjust to the darkness for about half an hour, as you would for any space-watching fun. Just your eyes and a sense of wonder are all you need to observe this meteor shower.
This meteor shower occurred because the Earth was traveling through a cloud of rocky debris left behind by passing comets. The comet fragments tumble and flip through the air and as they do some of them ignite and shoot off into the sky.
As of now, we can safely call them meteors. Space rocks rarely cause significant damage because of their small size and the fact that most of them burn up long before they reach Earth’s surface. Those hardy souls who are sturdy enough to survive the fall to Earth as meteorites.
From where we sit on Earth, the Dragonoid meteor shower appears to originate in Draco (the Latin word for dragon). In the northern sky, between the Big and Little Dippers, you’ll find this constellation that looks like a serpent’s tail.
This weekend’s Hunter’s Moon may be overshadowing the Draconids, but it’s still a sight to behold. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the month of October is when the Hunter’s Moon appears, so named because it coincides with the hunting season when a game is more robust after fattening up over the summer.
Migrating Moon (Cree), Freezing Moon (Ojibwe) and Blood Moon are just a few of the alternative names for the full moon that occurs in the United States during the month of October. On Sunday, October 9th, it will be at its brightest this year. Although it is brightest at 4:55 p.m. EST, the moon will still look full even after the sun has set and the sky has darkened.