Draconid Meteor Shower to peak this weekend - how to see it from the UK

Friday, 8th October 2021, 3:38 pm
Stargazers in the UK will be hoping to catch a glimpse of the Draconid Meteor Shower (image: Shutterstock)

Every October, the night sky is lit up by shooting stars from the Draconid Meteor Shower.

A meteor shower occurs when the earth travels through the clouds of debris emitted from a comet’s trail.

They can sometimes be spectacular events with dozens of shooting stars an hour.

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So what can we expect to see from the Draconid Meteor Shower - and will the UK’s weather allow us to watch it?

What is the Draconid Meteor Shower?

The Draconid Meteor Shower comes from the trail of the 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner comet.

This comet was first discovered in 1900 by the astronomer Michel Giacobini before being found again by Ernst Zinner in 1913. According to Nasa, it orbits the sun every 6.6 years.

The Draconids get their name from the constellation they seem to originate from - in this case Draco, which is Latin for dragon.

But they are also sometimes known as the Giacobinids after the man who first discovered the comet.

Ice and rock particles from comets create meteor showers (image: Shutterstock)

Meteor showers are caused by particles of ice and rock - sometimes as small as a grain of sand - hitting the earth’s atmosphere.

Friction generated by this interaction gives off heat and light, creating streaks of light in the night sky as the particles burn up.

While the Draconid Meteor Shower produced some of the most spectacular astronomical events of the 20th century, including a ‘meteor storm’ in 1933 when 500 meteors per minute were seen above Europe, the event hasn’t been especially vibrant in recent years.

According to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, London, this is because the rate of meteors depends on which part of the comet’s trail the earth hits.

As the earth rarely comes close to the comet, the Draconid Meteor Shower is classified by Nasa as “weak”, with the space agency expecting 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak.

When is the Draconid Meteor Shower in 2021?

In 2021, the Draconid Meteor Shower will appear in the UK’s skies between 7 and 11 October.

Its peak will come on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 October.

While most meteor showers are best seen in the early hours of the morning, the best time to see the Draconids is in the evening, just after nightfall.

Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through a comet’s trail (image: Shutterstock)

Will I be able to see it in the UK?

UK stargazers could be in for disappointment this year.

According to the Met Office, much of the country is set to be shrouded in cloud on Friday night with rain hitting much of Northern Ireland and Western Scotland.

Parts of Wales and the South-West, Yorkshire and North-East of England could see a break in the cloud.

On Saturday night, Northern Ireland, Western Scotland and the South-East of England could have the best chance of a clear night sky in the early evening.

But a weather front will mean much of the UK is hit by rainfall and cloud as the night goes on.

Should you manage to find a patch of clear sky, the Royal Observatory says it’s best to be somewhere with dark skies, an unobstructed horizon and little light pollution to be in with a chance of seeing any shooting stars.

The Draco constellation from which the meteors will appear can be found almost directly above you in the centre of the night sky.

What other meteor showers can I see in 2021?

And if you miss the Draconid Meteor Shower, there will be more opportunities to catch shooting stars later in the year.

The Orionids Meteor Shower has been appearing in the night sky since 1 October and continues until 6 November. It will be at its peak on 21 October when you can expect to see around 15 meteors per hour.

The Leonids follow from 5 to 29 November, with a peak of up to 15 meteors per hour on 17 and 18 November.

2021 will then be rounded out by the Geminids.

One of the largest meteor showers of the year, it appears between 3 and 16 December, with a display of bright meteors.

At its peak on 14 December, stargazers can expect to see more than 120 shooting stars per hour.