Published: 2012-10-04 17:41:00
Updated: 2012-10-04 17:42:15
Posted October 4, 2012
By Tony Rice
October is a rare month with two opportunities to see meteor showers.
Starting Thursday and continuing through an expected peak of Oct. 7 and 8, the draconid meteor shower is expected to be visible after sunset. Look to the North between the big dipper (just above the horizon) and the bright star Vega (nearly overhead) for the constellation Draco. Meteors will appear to emanate from the head of the dragon.
The number of meteors this dragon constellation appears to spit out is hard to predict. The meteors are created as Earth passes through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner. The draconids of 1933 and 1946 produced thousands per hour. Last year, hundreds per hour were seen by observers in dark locations. The number of meteors visible will be determined by how dense the dust stream is.
The draconids are worth a look, weather permitting of course. Most meteor showers are best viewed after midnight as we rotate into the debris streaming off the comet tail. The draconids are best viewed before about midnight this year when the moon isn't up to spoil the view. No need to rouse sleeping family members in the middle of the night.
This week also starts the Orionid meteor shower, the second of two yearly passes through dust streaming off Haley's Comet.
Don't expect anything spectacular though. The peak wont be until Oct. 21 and even then only 10-15 meteors per hour are expected.
Early risers might see a few meteors emanating from constellation Orion, the hunter, over the next few weeks in the pre-dawn southern sky. This will get easier from mid-October on as the new moon rises after sunrise giving us a much darker sky.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.