As the first meteor shower of October approaches, officials have conflicting opinions on how it will turn out. Some say the moon will be in the way for viewers, while NASA officials are concerned about the International Space Station.
The Draconids meteor shower is forecast for Saturday evening, but a waxing gibbous moon will compete with the display.
“Which is too bad,” said EarthSky.org Editor in Chief Deborah Byrd, “because earlier this year, an astronomer made a bold prediction that this shower might produce unusually high peak meteor rates of 1,000 per hour on October 8, 2011.”
According to astronomers, the Draconids shower typically produces only a handful of meteors per hour — about 10 an hour — in most years. If the predicted outburst comes in 2011, the shower must compete with the light of the waxing gibbous moon. Still, officials say this shower is worth a try this year. The Draconids are one of the few showers that’s as good in the evening as after midnight.
So why do some astronomers think this shower could be a big deal?
Adrian West of UniverseToday.com said, “Astronomers believe (the shower could be a big deal) as the predicted path of the Earth through the debris streams of comet 21P/Giacobini-Ziner is favorable for a major storm, similar to what has been seen in previous years. Some reports say NASA is even considering the potential risk of damage to the International Space Station and other satellites due to meteoroid impacts.”
According to National Geographic, the possibility of a meteor storm has NASA and other spacecraft operators keeping keen eyes on how the Draconids might affect the International Space Station and other satellites currently in Earth’s orbit.
NASA said the biggest hazard to satellites during a meteor shower is electrostatic discharge associated with meteor impacts.
When a meteor hits a satellite at high speed, the tiny rock vaporizes into hot, electrically charged gas — or plasma — that can short out circuits and damage on-board electronics, causing the satellite to spin out of control.
“We’re predicting as many as 750 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke, of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “The timing of the shower favors observers in the Middle East, north Africa and parts of Europe.
“Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by,” said Cooke. “Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on — and the fireworks begin.”
“A dramatic 2011 Draconid meteor shower is a long shot at best,” said Byrd. “The prediction could be wrong. The moon could obliterate the show. A more reliable shower, typically, is the Orionid meteor shower in late October.”
If, when viewing the meteor show, you happen to see many and perhaps take pictures, feel free to share them with the Daily Journal.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 43, or by email at email@example.com.