No plans for this evening? How about sitting back and watching the spectacular Draconids Meteor Shower, which peaks tonight?
Here’s our guide to getting the best views of tonight’s astronomical phenomenon.
What is it?
The Draconids, like any meteor shower, is a harmless stream of cosmic debris which causes a spectacular shooting star effect as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
This particular show comes around every year, and even in less than perfect conditions, can be a great watch. In 2011, despite there being a large bright moon on the night, European observers could see an impressive 600 meteors per hour.
How do I watch it?
Through the naked eye. You won’t need any special equipment to see it, but temperatures in London will dip to 13 degrees celsius this evening so you might need some layers. You could be waiting for a while, so a pop-up chair would also come in handy.
When do I watch it?
A rarity for meteor showers, the best time to see these shooting stars will be in the early evening just after sunset, which is at 6:24pm today.
This is because the meteors will be emerging from a point which is highest in the sky between dusk and midnight.
Where can I see it?
The Northern Hemisphere is perfectly suited to watching this particular meteor shower, and it’s not that complicated to find. To spot the Draconids, you don’t need to look in a particular direction, but astronomers recommend you find the two bright stars – Eltanin and Rastaban – which are part of Draco, the dragon constellation. The shower should appear to emerge from the dragon’s head.
Apps like SkyView Free and Sky Map can help you find Draco – just point your phone at the sky for real-time stargazing. Or you can go old school and print out a starmap to try and find the constellation yourself, which might pass the time while you’re waiting for those elusive meteors to make an appearance.
Obviously the further you can get from London’s light pollution the better. But if you can’t leave the city, you can acclimatise your eyes to the darkness, and they’ll be better at spotting cosmic goings-on.
Find a place in your garden where bushes block the neighbours’ lights, then allow your eyes to dilate as much as possible. This means no lights, or phones, and staring at the night sky for at least 20 minutes. You should now be able to see a lot more.
What if I miss it?
If all else fails you can watch a live stream here. But don’t worry, October is quite a month for meteor showers, and there’s another one, The Orionids, which should peak around the 21st.