Possible Meteor Storm 8 October 2011
The little known October Draconid (or Giacobinid) meteor shower has produced spectacular displays in 1933 and 1946 where rates were greater than one meteor per second! Models run recently have predicted a possible reoccurence of the Giacobinid storm this year on 8 October between 18:00 and 22:00 GMT.
Comet Giacobini-Zinner orbits the Sun once every 6 years and as it does, it leaves behind a trail of debris. Every year, during the month of October, the Earth passes through this cloud of debris and what we see here on Earth is a display of shooting stars or meteors to use their correct term. As the pieces hurtle through our atmosphere they can be seen as the charateristic streak of light in the sky.
If the Earth passes through the orbit just after the comet then we are in for a real treat as the cloud of debris will have been replenished, ergo a lot more meteors. Giacobini-Zinner is in the area and reaches its closest approach to the Sun in February 2012. Earth will reach the cloud 132 days before this so you would think that this year would be nothing special. Wrong! Recent forecasts predict the Earth will pass particularly close to an older cloud from a previous pass of the comet.
Remember though that meteor showers are unreliable so don’t be surprised if the predicted storm doesn’t appear. That said, its looking very likely at the moment and even NASA are considering the potential risk of damage to the International Space Station and other satellites due to meteroid impacts.
To observe the storm, get outside on the 8th October between 18:00 and 22:00 GMT and watch. Europe and Middle East are best placed but if its dark where you are during those hours, its worth a try. Its also worth keeping an eye out on the 7th and 9th just in case it happens earlier or later. No equipment is needed, just a comfortable chair, wrap up warm and wait. The Moon will be gibbous on the 8th so keep your gaze to the north to avoid its glare and if all goes as expected, it could be incredible and something NOT to be missed.