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Posted at 04:10 PM ET, 10/06/2011

Dramatic Draconid meteor shower possible Saturday

Sun, moon may make viewing difficult


A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky over the village of Kuklici, known for its hundreds of naturally formed stones which resemble human beings, near Kratovo, 80 km (49 miles) east from the capital Skopje, August 13, 2011. (OGNEN TEOFILOVSKI - REUTERS)
This Saturday, not a mere meteor shower but a meteor “outburst” or “storm” may spray through the heavens. NASA is predicting up to 750 meteors per hour from the dust stream of Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, known as the Draconid meteor shower.

Says NASA: Every 6.6 years Comet Giacobini-Zinner swings through the inner solar system. With each visit, it lays down a narrow filament of dust, over time forming a network of filaments that Earth encounters every year in early October.

The big problem for U.S. skywatchers: the strongest activity is anticipated between 3 and 5 p.m. ET when the sun will make seeing anything impossible. But some meteors could linger into the evening and there is some uncertainty with the timing.

The news is better across the Atlantic when the shower is forecast to coincide with nightfall, but even there, a full moon will compromise the view.

A full moon partially obscured the Perseid meteor shower in August as well.

Ordinarily, the Draconid meteor shower is a “sleeper” says EarthSky, with just about 10 meteors per hour. But this year, the Earth is forecast to pass through more of the comet’s filaments than usual according to dust stream models used by scientists. These models simulate dozens to hundreds of meteors per hour says NASA. Given this large range, the shower could be either quite the spectacle or a bust.

There is even speculation this year’s Draconid shower could reach storm intensity. For a meteor shower to become a meteor “storm” NASA says, the meteor rate would need to reach 1,000 per hour. It notes meteor forecasters Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario believes attainment of storm intensity is possible, and that it’s happened before with the Draconids:

Close encounters with dusty filaments produced storms of more than 10,000 Draconids per hour in 1933 and 1946 and lesser outbursts in 1985, 1998, and 2005.

Bracing for the meteor onslaught, National Geographic writes NASA will monitor for the possibility of damage to the International Space Station:

The biggest hazard to satellites during a meteor shower is electrostatic discharge associated with meteor impacts.

When a meteor hits a satellite at high speed, the tiny rock vaporizes into hot, electrically charged gas—or plasma—that can short out circuits and damage onboard electronics, causing the satellite to spin out of control.

But NASA says “the slow pace of Draconid meteors minimizes their danger to satellites and spacecraft.”

Additional meteor shower viewing opportunities are forthcoming reports the Associated Press:

If you miss this weekend’s Draconids, you can catch the Orionids on Oct. 22 — remnants from Halley’s Comet, expected to number 20 meteors an hour.

Then there are the Leonids in mid-November — with as many as 100 meteors an hour.

By  |  04:10 PM ET, 10/06/2011

Categories:  Latest, Astronomy, Space

 
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