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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Draconids Meteor Storm - This Could Be Very Big...

...or not. This year the Draconids meteor shower peaks on the night of October 8th, right after the end of Yom Kippur. Scientists this year are predicting a possible meteor storm from the Draconids, a condition in which over 750 meteors per hour might be seen. Let me do the math for you - that's over 12 meteors per minute. The Draconids, formerly called the Giacobinids, come from our encounter with the orbit of comet Giacobini-Zinner, which passes our way every 6.6 years. Every time it orbits the sun it lays down a stream of particles, kind of like a family in a car throwing litter out the window as they go along. Most years, we pass through the streams without touching them, or just grazing them. This year, we are predicted to have a head-on encounter with three of the streams!

In the late 1880s the comet had a close encounter with that big, bad boy of planets, Jupiter, which altered its course and made predicting its streams uncertain. But in 1933 there were over 10,000 Draconids per hour reported, and also large outbursts in 1946 and lesser ones in 1985, 1998, and 2005. So, this is predicted to be a big year. As always, there is a fly in the ointment, or rather a moon in the sky. The moon will be nearly full on the 8th, and it's light will block all but the brigthest meteors, considerably reducing the number visible even should a meteor strom occur. Still, it could be quite a nice sight nonetheless.

The meteor shower is predicted to have a number of peaks, as the earth encounters the orbit of the streams throughout the night, starting at 8:00PM Israel local time through 1:00AM Sunday morning. Israel is perfectly placed for this display since it begins to occur early in the evening after Yom Kippur and continues for another five hours. In any case, we are much better than the US where the peaks all occur in broad daylight (and on Yom Kippur day).

To observe the meteor shower you can look anywhere in the sky. You should just have a clear horizon and as little additional light pollution as possible. Mitzpe Ramon, or any desert location in the Negev, will be perfect for this, but I don't expect many people to come down after Yom Kippur. Just go outside, if you have no other choice, and look up!

Comet Giacobini-Zinner, as seen in 1998.

You might also be interested in: Draconid Meteor Outburst

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