In most years, this hard-to-predict shower doesn’t offer much more than a handful of languid meteors per hour. But elevated levels of meteors always loom as a possibility, as was the case in 2011 and 2012. In 2014, though, the Hunter’s Moon – aka the Blood Moon – is sure to reduce the number of visible meteors. Try your luck on the evenings of October 7 and 8. Start at nightfall, for that’s when the Draconid radiant point is highest in the sky. You might also try to find the two brightest stars in the constellation Draco the Dragon, in order to gaze into the Dragon’s flaming eyes and to behold the radiant point of the Draconid meteor shower. Sound exciting? Follow the links below to find the radiant point for the Draconids.
Why is a radiant point important then? If you trace the paths of the Draconid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from the Dragon’s fiery mouth. For most meteor showers, the whereabouts of the radiant point is important because the radiant needs to be above the horizon, in order for you to see the most meteors. For the Draconids, assuming you live at a northerly latitude, that requirement is less important. Why? Because, for northerly latitudes, the radiant point of the Draconid shower – in the northern constellation Draco – is above the horizon all night.
Still, people always ask about – and want to know about – meteor shower radiant points.
Identifying a meteor shower radiant point is fun. The Dragon’s two brightest stars – Eltanin and Rastaban – are near the radiant point for the Draconids. These stars represent the Dragon’s eyes. Find them tonight!
Use the Big Dipper to locate the Draconids’ radiant. In 2013, the moon-free evenings will provide a dark sky for seeing Draco the Dragon in all his starlit majesty. Look for Eltanin and Rastaban somewhat high up in the northwestern sky at nightfall and early evening.
Our sky chart – above – shows the northwestern quadrant of sky and covers a lot more area than most of our charts do. The Big Dipper sits low in the northwest, especially as seen from the southern states. Obstructions on the horizon may even hide the Big Dipper from view. If you can spot it low in the sky, use the Big Dipper to star-hop to the stars Polaris and Arcturus.
Use the Summer Triangle to locate the Draconids’ radiant. The Summer Triangle asterism shines high in the south to overhead at nightfall. It is composed of three bright stars in separate constellations: Vega, Deneb and Altair.
Draw an imaginary line from the star Altair through the star Vega to locate Eltanin and Rastaban, the Dragon’s Eyes, the radiant of the Draconid meteor shower.
For binocular astronomers. If you’re familiar with the Summer Triangle asterism, try your luck star-hopping to the Coathanger asterism. See more at Coathanger: Looks like its name
Bottom line: The modest Draconid meteor shower usually only puts out a handful of meteors per hour, though elevated levels are always possible. If you’re game on the evenings of October 7 and 8, 2014, lie down in a reclining lawn chair in early evening, with your feet pointing northward. As you watch for the Draconid meteors on these moonlit evenings, see if you can locate the Dragon’s Eyes and the radiant point of the Draconid meteor shower.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.