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You don’t have to travel far—just somewhere dark enough—to see October’s two meteor showers.
Grab a blanket, head outdoors, and look up.
Now that fall is nearly here and the days are getting shorter, there are plenty of celestial events to look forward to in the night sky. You’ll have to wait until December for a major meteor shower—the Geminids—that will live up to the spectacular show that the Perseids put on in August. But every October the Orionids and the Draconids meteor showers send dozens of meteoroids—or debris left behind by passing comets—burning through the Earth’s atmosphere on peak nights.
Draconids, the smaller of the two meteor showers peaks on Friday, October 8, 2021, according to EarthSky.org. They will be best in the early evening and you can expect to see around five meteors per hour. That’s significantly fewer than the Orionids later in the month, but a waxing crescent moon sets before nightfall so there’s a chance to see them under dark sky conditions.
Because the Draconids meteor shower radiates from the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon, located in the northern sky, it’s best viewed from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. In order to have a chance to see as many meteors as possible, be sure to be somewhere where there’s a clear sky and little to no light pollution (visit darkysky.org to find a dark sky spot near you). And head out around 45 minutes early to let your eyes adjust to the dark. If you can’t get away the night of October 8, try the nights of October 7 and 9, as well.
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October’s biggest meteor shower—the Orionids—will begin to peak just before dawn on Thursday, October 21, 2021, according to EarthSky.org. Anywhere between 10 to 20 meteors per hour are expected. Unfortunately, the Hunter’s Moon—the name of the full moon in October—occurs at the same time, illuminating the night sky and making it difficult to see the meteors.
The Orionids are active October 2 through November 7, 2021, and visible from anywhere in the world, so you can also try your chances on other nights, as well.
You won’t need a telescope, since most meteors are bright enough to see with the naked eye. However, you will want to give yourself about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, so you’ll want to stay warm and have something comfortable to sit on while you acclimate.
A reclining camp chair can help prevent a sore neck the next day, a packable puffy blanket will keep things cozy on chilly nights, and a headlamp with a red-light setting helps illuminate the path to your stargazing spot without introducing unwanted light to the area. Here are some of our favorite gear picks for each of those scenarios:
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If you end up missing the Orionids and Draconids in October, you won’t have to wait long for the next celestial event worth staying up late—or waking up early—to happen. The Northern Taurids and Leonids will be visible in the late evening on November 11, 2021, and before dawn on November 17, 2021, respectfully. It’s predicted that the Northern Taurids will produce about 5 meteors per hour, but the Leonids will be slightly more active with 10 to 15 meteors per hour.
If you’re planning to travel to a dark sky reserve, instead of just heading out to your backyard, it’s best to wait until December. The next major meteor shower, the Geminids, will begin to peak midevening on December 13 and last until dawn on December 14, according to EarthSky.org. Around 50 meteors or more per hour are expected to be visible; however, the sky will be illuminated since the moon will be 78 percent full that night.
This article was originally published on October 7, 2020; it was updated on September 1, 2021, with current information.
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