~ St. Maarten’s Backyard Astronomy for October 7 & 8 ~

Sun rises at 6:03am
Sun sets at 5:56pm
Moon phase: Full Harvest Moon

Moon rises at 7:50pm, Saturday
Moon sets at 8:42am, Sunday

Meteor Showers
This weekend, both Saturday and Sunday nights, the Draconid meteor shower is on display. Unfortunately, our latitude isn’t the prime viewing area, as the falling stars will be in the northern portions of the sky. But it’s still well worth a try; it’s best to watch for these meteors as soon as darkness falls, unlike most meteor showers that peak in the wee hours before dawn.

The Draconids are named after the constellation Draco, the Dragon, which is the radiant of the showering light. A radiant is the point in the sky which the meteors appear to shoot out of.

Here’s the best way to watch for the Draconids. Once the sky is dark, grab a lounge chair and lie down with your feet pointing northward. Oftentimes, this hard-to-predict shower doesn’t offer much more than a handful of languid meteors per hour; however, on occasion, the dragon awakens!

The Draconid meteor shower produced awesome meteor displays in 1933 and 1946, with thousands of meteors per hour seen in those years. Six years ago – in October 2011 – people around the globe saw an elevated number of Draconid meteors, despite a bright moon that night. European observers saw over 600 meteors per hour in 2011.

The intensity of the meteor shower has to do with the earth’s passage through the dust strewn path a comet’s trail. Meteoroids from the comet stream collide with Earth’s atmosphere and ignited, punctuating the night sky with a cascade of shooting stars. We know when the earth passes through the trail, but the density of the dust in the portion of the trail we pass through is less certain.

The Draconids are courtesy of a comet with the poetic name of 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. This comet orbits through the solar system every 6.6 years, depositing debris in a trail that remains suspended there for thousands of years. Earth then passes through the trail during its annual orbit, giving rise to a meteor shower that appears to originate from the head of the constellation Draco.

As far as we know, 2017 isn’t expected to be particularly dramatic, but you never know for sure with the Draconids, so it’s worth watching out for on the evenings of October 7 and 8. Just keep in mind that meteor showers are notorious for defying predictions, either surpassing or falling shy of expectation. The only way to know for sure is to try to watch the sky.

Full Moon
This weekend the moon is near full, and this is the famous Harvest Moon which inspired the song. The true full moon was Thursday past, but we overlook that point for the sake of lunar enjoyment.

The Harvest Moon is technically the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox of September 22, so this year it’s on October 5. The Harvest moon will rise on Thursday just as the sun sets; it will be overhead around midnight and will set as the sun rises. This is called opposition, and it’s why the moon appears full.

By the weekend, the moon is rising about an hour after sunset, but it will still be round and bright and worth our singing, “Shine on, shine on Harvest Moon, up in the sky. I ain’t had no loving since January, February, June or July.” More’s the pity.

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

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