October’s Draconids meteor shower, named after the constellation Draco, is peaking tonight and tomorrow night in the Northern Hemisphere, despite the luminous waxing gibbous shining brightly in the dark sky. Also unofficially referred to as the Giacobinids, this shower’s parent body is the periodic comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.
Image Credit: N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF
This comet has an orbital period of about 6.6 years. It’s approximately six times more distant at its farthest point from the Sun than at its nearest point. At aphelion, its most distant point, it can be found flying around out past Jupiter. At perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, it’s about the same distance as the Earth is from the Sun. Fun Fact: The next perihelion is scheduled for 2025, so mark your calendars.
This isn’t one of those super active showers, so you can only expect to see (if you’re lucky) five or so meteors per hour. Historically, this shower was an unexpected sensation in the years 1933 and 1946, with thousands of meteors per hour streaking across the sky.
Image Credit: EarthSky.org
Even though you shouldn’t anticipate such a show tonight, a cool thing about this particular shower is that you can start looking upward at nightfall. Unlike most showers that peak in the wee hours of early morning, this one kicks off as soon as it gets dark. For reference as you gaze into the heavens, the tail of the constellation Draco can be found curled in between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.
The next meteor shower this month is the Orionids, which peak on or around the 21st and 22nd if you want to schedule a reminder. This is considered a medium strength shower, so you can expect to see ten to twenty meteors per hour on average. The moon shouldn’t play as much of a role on visibility since it will only be half illuminated in its third quarter phase.
Image Credit: NASA
This shower is created by debris left behind by Halley’s Comet, named after astronomer Edmond Halley. The last time the comet was close enough to Earth to view was in 1986, and the next time it’s due to come back around is in 2061. Fun Fact: It’s the only known short-period comet that is regularly visible to the naked eye from Earth, and the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime.
As the name suggests, the radiant point for the Orionids is in the direction of the constellation of Orion the Hunter, which ascends in the East after midnight. More specifically, the radiant is closest to the club of Orion, as shown below.
Image Credit: EarthSky.org
The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse, which is also one of the largest known stars in the night sky and the ninth brightest overall. It is distinctly reddish in color with a diameter about 700 times that of the Sun. Fun Fact: Starting in 1993 and continuing for about fifteen years, its radius shrank by 15-percent – a bewildering amount for such a short amount of time.