** Factual information about astronomical events will be posted here, to counter any misleading/inaccurate/sensationalist reporting in the media… **
DRACONID METEOR SHOWER 2017
…and here we go *again*, the media is hyping up *another* very modest meteor shower, telling people the Draconid meteor shower will ‘light up the sky’ this weekend etc etc… It seems that every single meteor shower, even the – technical term alert – crappy ones is now latched onto by the media and built up into a ‘story’. There’s just been a guest astronomer on BBC Breakfast talking about seeing “thousands” tonight, and advising people to turn their backs on the Moon to see “an impressive show”, for pity’s sake…
What’s actually going to happen?
Well, there is a meteor shower peaking this weekend, and it is called the “Draconids” because the meteors all appear to shoot out of the constellation of Draco, The Dragon. What the reports are failing to mention is that the Draconids is a minor shower, and at its best produces maybe a dozen or so shooting stars per hour. Unfortunately we won’t see it at its best this weekend because there will be a big, bright Moon in the sky too, which will reduce the number visible.
So where are these wild claims of “thousands every hour” coming from?
The Draconid shower has produced “outbursts” in the past, when activity has, briefly, increased to a rate of thousands per hour, but these outbursts have been few and far between, and no-one is predicting one for this year; meteor experts have now got very, very good at predicting when showers will produce outbursts, but none of them have suggested anything out of the ordinary this weekend. Which is a shame, but that’s just the way it is. However, the media are still predicting outburst rates though, which is misleading and wrong.
Will it be worth looking, then? Yes! Absolutely! If your sky is clear after dark tonight (no need to wait until after midnight for this one!) get out there, find a dark place, and look up, towards the Big Dipper (or the Plough or the Saucepan or whatever you know it as) and just wait… you might have to wait a long time, but eventually you should see a shooting star. It will have to be a bright one, because that almost-Full Moon will drown out the light of the fainter ones, but Draconids can be very bright and slow-moving so yes, it’s absolutely worth looking out for shooting stars over this weekend. Cross your fingers for a shooting star every five minutes or so, but don’t hold your breath for that, and be happy if you see one or two every hour – and definitely believe the media hype and go out expecting to see thousands and thousands, because that’s not going to happen.
Note: the purpose of this blog is not to act as an “astronomical killjoy”, but to provide people with accurate information and honest advice. There’s so much nonsense being printed, posted and broadcast about astronomical news stories now – especially meteor showers, comets, eclipses, etc, i.e. things people can actually see “up there” – that it’s really getting silly. It’s good when the media covers these things properly, because it encourages people to get out and look up and see exciting things in the night sky, but inaccurate, misleading and simply bad reporting like this helps no-one. It raises false expectations and leaves a lot of people disappointed.