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]

How to Catch the Transits of Mercury and the 'Demon Star' This Month

Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images
Allexxandar/iStock via Getty Images

This month's sky-gazing event calendar is all about transits. In astronomy, a transit occurs when one celestial body appears to pass directly in front of another in the night sky, causing the light from one body to diminish in some cases. As Geek reports, there are two main transits to look out for in November: that of Mercury moving across the sun and the dimming and brightening of the "demon star" Algol.

What is a Mercury transit?

Mercury is currently in retrograde (though you shouldn't blame that for any chaos in your personal life). As the innermost planet travels "backwards" across the sky this month, it will make a rare detour past the face of the sun on November 11. Mercury's transit across the sun is something that only happens roughly 13 times every 100 years. Such an event won't be seen again in the U.S. until 2049.

This time around, it will take Mercury about five and a half hours—starting just after sunrise on the East Coast—to make the full journey from one end of the bright yellow disc to the other.

What is a "demon star" transit?

The transit of Algol, also known as the demon star, is a much more common event, but it's no less spectacular. Algol is really two stars in the constellation Perseus that are constantly orbiting each other. Every 2.86736 days, the smaller star of the pair passes in front of the larger star, making it appear slightly dimmer for 10 hours at a time. In the first half of the month, most of these transits occur after sunset on the East Coast, which is the best time to observe the transition. The next is set for November 9 at 3:17 a.m. EST, with the one after that taking place on November 12, six minutes after midnight.

Algol gets its monstrous nickname from a classic villain of Greek mythology. The star is supposed to resemble the winking, snake-haired head of the gorgon Medusa, who was slain by Perseus. Algol is a name derived from an Arabic word meaning "the demon's head."

How to see Mercury's and Algol's transits

To see both of these events, you'll need some special equipment. Looking directly at the sun is never a good idea, and NASA recommends using a telescope with a certified sun filter to watch Mercury's transit safely on November 11. A solar projection box or sun funnel would also allow you to observe the planet's passage without damaging your eyes.

There's no harm in looking straight at the twin stars that make up Algol, but you'll have trouble seeing them "blink" with your naked eye. For that event, a regular telescope or binoculars would do.

[h/t Geek]

The Orionid Meteor Shower Will Peak on Monday Night

jk78/iStock via Getty Images
jk78/iStock via Getty Images

If you missed Halley's Comet's last trip through the inner solar system in 1986, you'll have to wait a while to catch its next appearance. The comet is only visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Though the comet itself is elusive, the debris from its tail lights up the night sky on a regular basis. To view the Orionid meteor shower when it peaks today—Monday, October 21, 2019—here's what you need to know.

What Are the Orionids?

As Halley's Comet propels through our solar system, it drags a trail of rocks and dust behind it. The tail is vast enough to a leave thick band of space debris in its wake. Every October, our planet passes through this rocky field, producing brilliant "shooting stars" as the meteors burn up in the atmosphere. From Earth, the meteor shower appears to originate from the constellation Orion, which is how it got its name.

When to See the Orionid Meteor Shower

The Orionids are visible from Earth starting in the beginning of October, but they don't peak until the latter half of the month. This year, the meteor shower will be brightest the night of Monday, October 21 and the morning of Tuesday, October 22. The moon will be around its last quarter phase at this time, which means that bright skies could wash out the light show for many. But if you wait until the hours leading up to dawn, when the moon sets and skies are darkest, you may be able to spot the shower.

To see it, make sure you're in an area with clear, open skies and minimal light pollution. Whether you live in the Northern or Southern hemispheres, you should be able to experience the phenomena if conditions are optimal.

[h/t Newsweek]

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