Draconid Harvest Moon Meteor Shower: When It’s Happening, How to Watch

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

Get ready, stargazers, because one of the most extraordinary natural light shows of the year is on the way. Two meteor showers will be visible in the sky during the month of October. The first, the Draconid meteor shower, is taking place at nightfall and early evening on Saturday, October 8, though it may be visible on the nights of the 7th and 9th as well.

This year, the meteor shower will be joined by another celestial spectacle – October’s harvest moon. Unfortunately, however, the combination is both a gift and a curse to stargazers. Though the impossibly large orange full moon is an incredible sight to behold, its light also makes the Drago stars more difficult to see.

Despite the immense harvest moon, however, NASA estimates that stargazers are likely to see 10-20 Draconid meteors per hour.

Now, this is a relatively low number in comparison to other showers because the Draconid shower is typically a sleeper. This means it produces only a few meteors per hour that journey through the sky at a leisurely pace. That said, should the Dragon awaken, a light show of epic proportions will ensue.

Draco the Dragon Could Awake During the Draconid Meteor Shower

The point of origin for meteor showers are comets. For the Draconid shower, that is Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. When Earth crosses paths with the comet’s orbit, the resulting debris collides with the atmosphere to create the Draconids.

That said, while it’s true that meteors come from comets, they also have a radiant, or a point in the sky from which they appear to originate. The Draconid shower’s radiant point is Draco the Dragon, a constellation in the far northern sky.

According to Greek mythology, Draco was one of the Giants who battled the gods on earth. Upon their defeat, some Giants were buried underground, giving rise to volcanoes and earthquakes. Others were thrown into the heavens by the gods, creating the constellations.

On the rare occasions that the Dragon awakes (remember, he’s usually very sleepy), the sky bursts with light, hundreds of meteors soaring among the stars in a single hour. It’s this possibility that makes the Draconid meteor shower a must-see event for astronomy enthusiasts.

Draco woke up for around two hours in 2018, so there’s a definite chance! And, should Comet 21P’s perihelion (its closest point to the sun), correspond with the shower’s peak, we could see a meteor storm. If a storm occurs, thousands of meteors will fill the sky. That said, this breathtaking cosmic event hasn’t happened since 1946.

The Orionid Shower Will Follow the Draconids

Once the Draconid meteor shower has passed, we can begin to look forward to the Orionid meteor shower. The Orionid meteors’ predicted peak occurs on October 20 and 21, during which time the shower will be most visible.

Unlike the full moon set to arrive alongside the Draconids, the Orionids should occur under a relatively dark sky. The moon will be in a waning crescent, allowing for greater visibility for stargazers.