January 25, 2022

Draconid meteor shower 2021: When, where and how to watch the unpredictable ‘shooting star’ display

Draconid meteor shower 2021: When, where and how to watch the unpredictable ‘shooting star’ display
Draconid meteor shower 2021: When, where and how to watch the unpredictable ‘shooting star’ displayDraconid meteor shower 2021: When, where and how to watch the unpredictable ‘shooting star’ display

A Draconid meteor streaks across the starry sky over Taos, New Mexico, in this photo taken by Mike Lewinski on Oct. 5, 2018.

A Draconid meteor streaks across the starry sky over Taos, New  Mexico, in this photo taken by Mike Lewinski on Oct. 5, 2018. (Image credit: Mike Lewinski/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The annual Draconid meteor shower peaks Friday evening (Oct. 8), two days after the new moon.

Even at their peak — which, this year, occurs just after nightfall on Friday evening —  the Draconids are usually modest, generating just a few meteors per hour. Because this year’s Draconid meteor shower occurs so close to the new moon, in the absence of bright moonlight more meteors may be visible in the night sky. 

The shower, which is typically active from Oct. 6 to Oct. 10 every year, occasionally puts on an incredible display. In 1933, for example, skywatchers in Europe saw up to 500 Draconids per minute, according to Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao. And observers throughout the Western United States saw thousands of Draconids per hour at the shower’s peak in 1946, he added.

Related: How to see the best meteor showers of 2021

This long-exposure image taken by Jesper Grønne in Denmark shows Draconid meteors streaking through the sky in October 2011. The Draconids were unusually active that year.

This long-exposure image taken by Jesper Grønne in Denmark shows Draconid meteors streaking through the sky in October 2011. The Draconids were unusually active that year. (Image credit: Jesper Grønne)

The Draconids occur when Earth plows through the stream of debris shed over the eons by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Dramatic outbursts like those of 1933 and 1946 — and lesser ones in 1926, 1952, 1985, 1998 and 2011 — seem “to occur only when the Earth passes just inside Comet Giacobini-Zinner’s orbit shortly after the comet itself has gone by,” Rao wrote.

Experts aren’t predicting that such a close pass will happen this year. So, again: Don’t expect a dazzling Draconid storm.

The Draconids “are an all or nothing shower,” Cooke told Space.com. “They are rich in faint meteors if they appear.”

This sky map shows the Draconid meteor shower's radiant, or the point from which the meteors seem to originate.

This sky map shows the Draconid meteor shower’s radiant, or the point from which the meteors seem to originate. (Image credit: Starry Night Software)

Most meteor showers are best viewed in the early morning hours. But to maximize your Draconid experience, start observing in the evening, as soon as it gets dark. 

That’s because the constellation Draco, the dragon — the shower’s “radiant,” or point from which the meteors appear to radiate — is highest in the sky shortly after nightfall.

Editor’s note: If you snap an amazing photo of a Draconid meteor or any other night-sky sight and you’d like to share it with Space.com for a story or image gallery, send images, comments and location information spacephotos@space.com.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.