Watch for Draconid meteors in 2018

Image at top: Draconid meteor seen in 2011 by Frank Martin Ingilæ. Used with permission.

Draco the Dragon is now spitting out meteors, also known as shooting stars. This is one shower that’s best to watch in the evening, not after midnight. The shower is active between October 6 and 10. The best evening to watch is likely October 8; try the evenings of October 7 and 9 also.

This shower favors the Northern Hemisphere, but Southern Hemisphere observers might catch some Draconids, too. No matter where you are on Earth, watch as close to nightfall as possible.

There’s a possibility the Draconids will be spectacular in 2018. The Draconid meteor shower produced awesome meteor displays in 1933 and 1946, with thousands of meteors per hour seen in those years. European observers saw over 600 meteors per hour in 2011.

Just remember, meteor showers are a bit like rain showers. There are no guarantees.

Even at northerly latitudes, the Draconids are typically a very modest shower, offering only a handful of slow-moving meteors per hour. It’s only when the Draconids’ parent comet – 21P/Giacobini-Zinner – is nearby, that the shower becomes a storm. This year, the comet reached perihelion, its closest point to the sun, on September 10, 2018. On that same night, it was closer to Earth than it had been in 72 years.

Will those two facts add up to a spectacular Draconid meteor shower this year? No one really knows, and we haven’t heard any predictions from professional astronomers.

The only way to find out is to watch.

Read more: Spectacular Draconid meteor shower in 2018?

Read more: Find the radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower

Six-shot composite image of Draconid meteor shower – October 7, 2016 – by Steen Oervad of Denmark.

By the way, 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is a periodic comet, which returns near the sun every 6 years and 4 months. Tracking this comet, and noting this October meteor shower, helped astronomers figure out how to predict meteor showers in 1915.

For a taste of history related to this shower, go to the Astronomy Abstract Service from the Smithsonian and NASA and find a 1934 article called The Meteors from Giacobini’s Comet by C.C. Wylie.

It’s a fascinating account of the famed meteor storm of 1933.

Bottom line: In 2018, the Draconid meteor shower – also called the Giacobinids – will probably be at its best on the evening (not after midnight) of October 8. Try the evenings of October 7 and 9, too. By the way, there are more meteors ahead! Check out EarthSky’s 2018 meteor guide.

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Deborah Byrd