In this year Draconid meteor shower in October will be impressive, but few people on the ground will get a chance to appreciate its true scope. According to a recent study on October 8, up to 1,000 meteors per hour will streak through Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately, the flurry will peak around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. EDT (1700 or 1800 GMT), meaning the sun will drown it out throughout the Western Hemisphere. The skywatching prospects in Europe are a little better, than in America, since the sun will have set in many places when the shower peaks. However, even European skies won’t be very dark. According to Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the moon will be about 90 percent full on October 8, washing out much of the Draconid meteor shower.
Like other meteor showers, the Draconids result when Earth plows through bits of debris shed by a comet on its path around the sun. In the Draconids’ case, this comet is called Giacobini-Zinner (hence the Draconids’ other name, the Giacobinids). These shed comet particles tend to cluster into “streams” or “trails.” If Earth happens to slam into a particularly dense particle stream or two, the meteor shower can be much more spectacular than usual. That’s what happened during previous big Draconid years. And it will happen again this October, when Earth will barrel through streams of comet material ejected by Giacobini-Zinner during the 1890s and early 1900s. In the recent study, astronomer Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario calculated that the 2011 Draconids will peak at a rate of about 1,000 per hour.