Enhanced activity from Draconid meteor shower possible in 2019

Meteor experts are advising that parts of the world might again enjoy enhanced activity from the Draconid meteor shower on October 8, 2019.

The radiant from which the Draconids appear to diverge is shown. The meteors themselves can appear anywhere in the sky. Screenshot from Stellarium.

This shower is produced by dust left by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner which came close to Earth last year and made an attractive display against a dark sky for binocular users and astrophotographers. The comet takes just 6.54 years to complete an orbit of the Sun.

In 2018, meteor observers saw the numbers of meteors (the ZHR) increase to 150 an hour for a time, though the meteors were largely faint. See our report of last year’s Draconid meteor outburst.

Experts with the International Meteor Organization have modelled the meteor shower in space and find that Earth may cross a number of denser streams of meteoroid particles on October 8. Click the link for more detailed information.

The meteors are called Draconids because the shower’s radiant is in the constellation of Draco, the Dragon, not far from the bright star Vega. They are sometimes also known as the Giacobinids after the name of the comet.

Usually, the Draconid meteor shower is an insignificant event, providing only a very few meteors at maximum. However, in the past meteor rates have soared when the comet is near Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun in its highly elliptical orbit.

This shows that, rather than becoming evenly distributed along its orbit, the meteor particles are still bunched up close to the comet itself. So when the Earth passes through the stream every year, it encounters differing quantities of this meteor dust.

The Draconids in history

In 1933 and 1946, rates of Draconid meteors were so high that thousands of meteors an hour could be seen for a time. Such outbursts are known as meteor storms.

The 1933 storm was witnessed by the Rev. W.F.A. Ellison, former Director of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland. He wrote a colourful report in the Belfast Telegraph, which you can read in full here. He wrote: “. . . it was apparent that a really great meteoric storm was in progress. I counted 200 meteors in two minutes, and then counting became impossible. The fire-stars became as thick as the flakes of a snowstorm. Instead of twos and threes they came in flocks and gusts. The sky was thick with them wherever one looked.”

Draconid meteor shower rates peaked again, to a lesser extent, in 1998 and again in 2005, 2011 and 2012. The meteors are slow-moving compared to meteors from other showers.

Comet 21P reached perihelion on September 10, 2010, just a month before this year’s crossing of the meteor stream by the Earth. The shower is recorded as being active from October 7th to 10th, with its peak on the night of October 8th/9th.

So what can we expect from the Draconid meteor shower in 2019? The honest answer is that no one can say, but conditions are such that we could enjoy some enhancement of rates. It will be worth keeping an eye on the sky to see what happens, despite the presence of a bright gibbous Moon!

The Draconid meteor shower’s radiant is in the far northern constellation of Draco, the Dragon, so this shower is not one for those of you in more southerly cities such as in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Related: What’s in this month’s night sky


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