Look up into the northern sky this evening for a chance to see an active meteor shower. The Draconids are active at the moment; Technically the downpour peaked yesterday, but activity is still expected tonight. Here’s the catch: Draconid isn’t usually a very big event. Only a few meteors per hour are likely this year, so get out after sunset tonight for a chance to see them. Move away from all light sources and allow your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. This shower is best seen just after sunset, when the point of radiation is highest in the sky. If you can find the Big Dipper in the night sky, look just a little above to find the Draconid radiation point. The new moon arrived on Wednesday October 6, so we still don’t have much moonlight to keep us from trying to see a shooting star tonight.
The Orionid meteor shower is also active at this time. This downpour peaks later this month, but that peak occurs at the same time as our next full moon. The full moon adds more light to the night sky, making it harder to see shooting stars. This is another downpour that is not expected to produce huge amounts of shooting stars this year, and this one will be best seen between midnight and dawn. Orionid meteors are generally characterized as being slow and faint, but with trains of light behind them that can last for a few seconds. Look east for this one.
The northern Taurida meteor shower becomes active towards the end of this month and remains active until early December. It’s also not a shower that has a lot of shooting stars falling all at once, but some of the meteors could be fireballs. These are the really bright shooting stars that you see most often on a dash cam video or a home security video. Taurids are also best seen before dawn, but you might want to wait to look for them until early November on our next new moon.
Why are there so many meteor showers active right now?
We see shooting stars as the Earth passes through a field of debris left by a comet. Think of it this way: the comet is a toddler and the space debris that remains are the crumbs the toddler leaves everywhere. Earth is going through this field of debris just as you might walk through the crumbs on the ground. When the dust, rock, and chunks of ice from this debris field enter Earth’s atmosphere, they burn. This is what we call a shooting star – burning space debris. Over the next couple of months, Earth’s orbit will cause it to cross the orbital path (debris field) of a few different comets, which is why we have a few different showers at around the same time.