The Draconid and Southern Taurid Meteor Showers Peak Tonight and Tomorrow

Eshma/iStock via Getty Images
Eshma/iStock via Getty Images

This week, you have two phenomenal opportunities to see a meteor shower light up the night sky. Here's how to catch a glimpse of the Draconids and Southern Taurids.

When to See the Draconid Meteor Shower

First up is the Draconid shower, which happens annually when Earth crosses the orbit of Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner, and the comet's debris transforms into meteors when it hits Earth’s atmosphere. Draconid refers to the appearance of the meteors near the head of the constellation Draco the dragon. According to EarthSky, the shower is also sometimes referred to as the Giacobinids—after Michel Giacobini, who discovered the comet in 1900.

The shower will peak Tuesday, October 8, into the following morning, and your best chance to spot a few meteors is right at nightfall. USA Today reports that since the meteors will be competing with the light from the moon, you should focus your gaze on an empty patch of sky.

When Comet21P/Giacobini-Zinner reaches its closest point to the sun, or perihelion, the number of meteors can sometimes reach the hundreds or even thousands. Since its most recent perihelion was just last year—and its next one won’t come until 2025—EarthSky predicts that this year’s orbital intersection will produce just about five meteors per hour.

When to See the Southern Taurid Meteor Shower

If you miss the Draconids’ display on Tuesday night, you can try again on Wednesday at nightfall with the Southern Taurids. Although the Taurids—referring to their proximity to the constellation Taurus—won’t likely amount to many more meteors per hour than the Draconids, the meteors themselves might be more noticeable. According to the American Meteor Society, the Taurids are “rich in fireballs,” which are such large, brilliant meteors that they can even cast shadows on the ground.

And, if the meteors manage to escape your line of sight altogether this week, don’t worry: The Orionid meteor shower is on its way later this month, followed by the Leonids in November and the Geminids in December.

[h/t USA Today]

The Moon Will Make Mars Disappear Next Week

Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Pitris/iStock via Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 18, the moon will float right in front of Mars, completely obscuring it from view.

The moon covers Mars relatively often—according to Sky & Telescope, it will happen five times this year alone—but we don’t always get to see it from Earth. Next week, however, residents of North America can look up to see what’s called a lunar occultation in action. The moon's orbit will bring it between Earth and Mars, allowing the moon to "swallow" the Red Planet over the course of 14 seconds. Mars will stay hidden for just under 90 minutes, and then reemerge from behind the moon.

Depending on where you live, you might have to set your alarm quite a bit earlier than you usually do in order to catch the show. In general, people in eastern parts of the country will see Mars disappear a little later; in Phoenix, for example, it’ll happen at 4:37:27 a.m., Chicagoans can watch it at 6:07:10 a.m., and New Yorkers might even already be awake when the moon swallows Mars at 7:36:37 a.m.

If you can’t help but hit the snooze button, you can skip the disappearing act (also called immersion) and wait for Mars to reappear on the other side of the moon (called emersion). Emersion times vary based on location, too, but they’re around an hour and a half later than immersion times on average. You can check the specific times for hundreds of cities across the country here [PDF].

Since it takes only 14 seconds for Mars to fully vanish (or reemerge), punctuality is a necessity—and so is optical aid. Mars won’t be bright enough for you to see it with your naked eye, so Sky & Telescope recommends looking skyward through binoculars or a telescope.

Thinking of holding an early-morning viewing party on Tuesday? Here are 10 riveting facts about Mars that you can use to impress your guests.

[h/t Sky & Telescope]

A Snow Moon Will Light Up February Skies

makasana, iStock via Getty Images
makasana, iStock via Getty Images

February is the snowiest month of the year in many parts of the U.S., but on February 9, consider braving the weather outside to look up at the sky. That Sunday morning, the only full snow moon of the year will be visible. Here's what you need to know about the celestial event.

What is a snow moon?

If you keep track of the phases of the moon, you may already know that the full moon of each month has its own special name. Following January's wolf moon lunar eclipse is a snow moon in February. The name snow moon is said to have originated with Native American tribes, and it refers to the heavy snowfall that hits many parts of North America in February.

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, different tribes had different names for February's full moon. The Wishram people named it the shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon and the Cherokee people called it the bone moon because animal bones were sometimes their only source of nutrition in the dead of winter. Snow moon is the name that's most commonly used by almanacs today.

When to See the Snow Moon

The moon will enter its next full phase the morning of Sunday, February 9. The snow moon will be at its fullest at 2:34 a.m. EST, but if you're not willing to stay up that late, it's still worth looking up. The previous evening—Saturday, February 8—the moon will be 99 percent illuminated on the East Coast. Check your local weather forecast and find a spot with clear skies to get the best view of the wintertime spectacle.

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