Keep an eye out for shooting stars in the north sky shortly after sunset this evening, and you may still catch the peak of the Draconids, the first of two October meteor showers.
Unlike most meteor showers that are best seen after midnight, the Draconids are best seen early in the evening, anytime after sunset. They were scheduled to peak Monday night and tonight. The meteor shower should be viewable all over Canada, but is much easier to see in rural areas, away from city lights.
“It’s an oddball one, because it’s one of those showers that’s very regular, but it generally doesn’t have what we call an outburst, where you have an awful lot meteors,” said Denis Grey, treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and member of the society’s board of directors, in an interview Monday.
During an “outburst,” the Draconids, which come from the debris of the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, can display hundreds of meteors per hour. But the last big outbursts were in 1933 and 1946, although there was also a "nice display" in 2011, Grey said. During a more typical Draconid meteor shower, one can expect about five or 10 meteors an hour, coming from the north, near the “head” of the constellation Draco the Dragon.
'Any meteor shower can surprise and give us a real shooting match.' - Denis Grey, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Even though nothing spectacular is expected this year, meteor showers can be very hard to predict, Grey added.
“Any meteor shower can surprise and give us a real shooting match and it’s real exciting,” he said. “It’s worth looking.”
An outburst should be noticeable within 10 minutes, he added.
The next meteor shower of the year is the Orionids, which peak Oct. 21, and are best viewed before sunrise.
“They usually do about 10 to 20 meteors an hour and they’re faster and brighter [than the Draconids],” Grey said.
Unfortunately, this year a very bright moon is expected during the peak, which Grey predicts will likely “wash out all but the very brightest meteors” originating from the constellation Orion.
However, there are only a few months to wait before two of the most reliable meteor showers of the year, the Geminids in mid-December and the Quadrantids at the beginning of January.