Many people will be hoping to catch a glimpse of the Draconid meteor shower through their windows when it hits its peak between October 8 and 9.
Also known as the Giacobinids, the Draconids belongs to periodic comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner and are best seen in the Northern Hemisphere, though it is still possible to see them in the Southern Hemisphere.
The shower, which is best seen in the evening, tends to be less active than others. It is known to be a sleeper, and it is uncommon to see more than five meteors per hour. However, the Draconid’s unpredictable nature was seen in both 1933 and 1946, when stargazers enjoyed thousands of meteors in only one hour. Could this be the case in 2021?
But even if you miss the Draconids, there is plenty of other opportunity throughout the rest of the year to see the sky full of streaks of light.
Here, we have compiled a complete guide on when, where and how can you see the other meteor showers of 2021.
What exactly is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the debris stream occupying the orbit of a comet or, in simpler terms, when a number of meteors flash across the sky from roughly the same point.
Meteors are sometimes called shooting stars, although they actually have nothing to do with stars.
Perspective makes meteor showers appear to emanate from a single point in the sky known as the shower radiant. The typical meteor results from a particle – the size of a grain of sand – vaporising in Earth’s atmosphere when it enters at 134,000mph.
Anything larger than a grape will produce a fireball, which is often accompanied by a persistent afterglow known as a meteor train. This is a column of ionised gas slowly fading from view as it loses energy.
Meteor, meteoroid or meteorite?
A meteor is a meteoroid – or a particle broken off an asteroid or comet orbiting the Sun – that burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, creating a “shooting star”.
Meteoroids that reach the Earth’s surface without disintegrating are called meteorites.
Meteors are mostly pieces of comet dust and ice no larger than a grain of rice. Meteorites are principally rocks broken off asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and weigh as much as 60 tonnes.
They can be “stony”, made up of minerals rich in silicon and oxygen, “iron”, consisting mainly of iron and nickel, or “stony-iron”, a combination of the two.
Scientists think about 1,000 tons to more than 10,000 tons of material from meteors falls on Earth each day, but it’s mostly dust-like grains, according to Nasa, and they pose no threat to Earth.
There are only two recorded incidents of an injury caused by a meteorite. One of these instances saw a woman bruised by a meteorite, weighing eight pounds, after it fell through her roof in 1954.
Other meteor shower dates for 2021
Orionid meteor shower
The Draconid is the first annual meteor shower in October with the second being Orionid, which occurs when Earth passes through debris left by Halley’s Comet – arguably the most famous comet.
While this shower is not quite as visible as others, you can maximise your chances by travelling to dark and rural locations during the peak, on Oct 21-22. Visible across both hemispheres, the best time to catch the shower in the UK is just before dawn. As you look towards the sky, the aptly named Orionid meteors appear to come from the Orion constellation direction, as they travel at 41 miles per second.
If you get lucky with the placement of the Moon and clouds, you could catch as many as 20 meteors per hour. Plus, the Orionid shower is renowned for its radiant, long-lasting streaks which stick around after the meteors have passed.