Draconid and Orionid meteors light up the skies over Santa Monica

SANTA MONICA, CA – In October, meteor showers return to the skies over California with the Draconids and Orionids. You may hear a lot about a never-before-seen falling star show known as the “Finlay-id Meteor Shower,” which, while interesting, won’t be visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Orionid meteor shower, which runs from October 2nd to November 7th, is known for producing fireballs.  They can be bright enough to withstand the full moon lighting up the early morning skies over California.

© Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images
The Orionid meteor shower, which runs from October 2nd to November 7th, is known for producing fireballs. They can be bright enough to withstand the full moon lighting up the early morning skies over California.

The Draconid meteor shower, which occurs October 6-10, is short-lived, but is preferred by many stargazers because the best viewing times are right after dark. In Santa Monica, the sun sets at 6:30 p.m. on October 8, the night of the Draconid Summit.

For a short time, sky watchers could see meteors from both Draconids and Orionids.

The Orionids run from October 2nd to November 7th but don’t peak until the morning hours of October 21st on October 21st, when the rain peaks in the hours before dawn.

The newly discovered Finlay-id meteor shower is expected to spray tiny pieces of dust from Comet 15P / Finlay over the southernmost regions of the earth for about 10 days, peaking on October 7 with little land mass.

“That makes it not only an interesting meteor shower, but also a very difficult meteor shower to watch,” Diego Janches, research astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Space.com.

This meteor shower is a real mystery. Janches told Space.com that it is likely to be a one-time meteor shower and that even if it recurs, it is unlikely to be an annual event. It’s possible, Janches said, that a hidden pocket of dust from comet 15 / P Finlay could collide with Earth in years’ time, but no one knows when or if the meteors associated with the comet’s dust will ever fly again.

Space.com has a lot more about the Finlay id meteor shower.

What to Expect from Draconids in California

The thin crescent moon won’t interfere with your ability to see the draconian meteor shower – a bit like a sleeper who typically sees a handful of meteors an hour.

The shower favors viewing in the early evening, as Draco the dragon, the head of the constellation, which is the shining point of the shower, is highest in the sky.

The shower is sometimes referred to as the Giacobiniden because it is produced by the ice and rock debris of Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner, which orbits the Sun roughly every 6.6 years.

In rare cases, Draco the dragon wakes up and can spit out a thousand or more falling stars per hour in what is known as a meteor storm or eruption. That happened in 1933 when 500 or more draconian meteors were sighted per hour in Europe. In 1946, between 50 and 100 draconids were sighted per minute in the United States, according to NASA.

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada predict Draconid eruptions in 2025 and 2029, but nothing extraordinary is forecast for this year’s meteor shower.

What to Expect from Orionids in California

The Orionids’ meteor shower produces around 20 meteors per hour. The hunter’s moon in October is full on October 20th, one of the peak dates, so only the brightest meteors are visible.

The Orionids, produced by specks of dust left by ancient Comet Halley, appear to radiate from the constellation Orion the Hunters, but can be seen all over the sky.

Unlike the Draconids, the Orionids are best seen in the hours before dawn. The Orionids move quickly and sometimes produce fireballs that can be bright enough to overcome the glaring moonlight.

What’s next in California’s meteor shower calendar?

Skywatchers will have several more meteor showers to choose from over the course of the year:

Taurids, 4th-5th centuries November and again 11.-12. November: This is a long lasting little meteor shower that only produces about five or ten shooting stars an hour. It is unusual not only because of its duration – it lasts from September 7th to December 10th – but also because it consists of two different branches: the southern taurids, which peak from November 4th to 5th, and the northern taurids, which peak on November 11-12.

The southern branch of the Taurid meteor shower is created by the dust particles left by asteroid 2004 TG10, and the source of the northern branch is debris left by comet 2P Encke. Both streams are rich in fireballs. At its peak, a new moon makes the sky dark. The shooting stars appear to be shining from the Taurus constellation, but you can see them all over the sky.

Leonids, 16.-17. November: The Leonid meteor shower, which is generated by grains of dust left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, takes place annually from 6-30. November. The Leonids have a cyclonic peak about every 33 years, when hundreds of meteors can be seen every hour – as was last seen in 2001 – but this will be an average year of around 15 shooting stars per hour at its peak. An almost full moon will be a nuisance, but the Leonids are known to produce particularly bright falling stars that even bright moonlight cannot extinguish. The meteors seem to come from the constellation Leo.

Geminids, 13-14th centuries December: The Geminid meteor shower, which took place from 4th to 17th Taking place December is one of the best shooting star shows of the year. Produced from debris left behind by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, discovered in 1982, the Geminids produce between 50 and 120 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak. A waxing moon at the summit will hide some, but they are so productive and bright that the 2021 show should be a good one. The meteors appear to be radiating from the constellation Gemini, but you can see them all over the sky.

Ursiden, December 21st: The Ursiden meteor shower runs from December 17th to 26th and always reaches its peak around the winter solstice. The Ursids are quite reluctant, delivering five or 10 meteors per hour, but on rare occasions can produce eruptions of 100 or more meteors per hour. The meteors seem to come from the Ursa Minor constellation.


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