A usually humdrum Draconid meteor shower will kick it up a notch on Saturday when it will go into overdrive, peaking with some 750 meteors per hour, experts say.
According to NASA, Earth will go through a stream of dust from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, the result of which could be an outburst of Draconid meteors.
It could be a dazzlingly year for the meteor show, NASA says.
If only those in the United States could see it.
NASA says the timing of the meteor shower is bad for those living in the U.S. because the Draconoid shower is expected to start around noon ET, and will be strongest between 3 and 5 p.m.
We're predicting as many as 750 meteors per hour, says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in a statement. The timing of the shower favors observers in the Middle East, north Africa and parts of Europe.
Meteors from Comet Giacobini-Zinner stream out of the northern constellation Draco, hence the name Draconids. They are some of the slowest of all meteors, hitting the atmosphere at a relatively leisurely 20 km/s.
The slow pace of Draconid meteors reduces their danger to satellites and spacecraft and makes them visually distinctive, NASA says.
Comet Giacobini-Zinner passes through the inner solar system every 6.6 years. Each time it visits it leaves a narrow thread of dust, which over time, forms a network of filaments that Earth run into every year in early October.
Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by, Cooke says. Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on - and the fireworks begin.
Most years, the Draconids are weak and faded, with a peak meteor rate of about 10 per hour, when compared to the August bursts of Perseid meteor shower that's pretty weak. This year, they must also compete with an almost-full moon.
Astronomers say the lunar glare will reduce the number of meteors visible from Europe, Africa and the Middle East by 2- to 10-fold. The daylight in North America will completely block out the display.
Forecasters at NASA and elsewhere have agreed that Earth is heading for three or more filaments on Oct. 8. These multiple encounters should yield a series of variable outbursts.
Still forecasters aren't sure how strong the display will be, largely because the comet had a close encounter with Jupiter in the late 1880s. During that time the planet's gravitational pull altered the comet's orbit and introduced some uncertainty into the location of filaments it has shed since then, according to NASA.
Additionally, NASA says competing models place the filaments in slightly different spots, and as a result, estimated meteor rates range from dozens to hundreds per hour.
Paul Wiegert a forecaster of the University of Western Ontario says the meteor rate could go as high as 1000 per hour. This would then classify it as a meteor storm. Should this happen, it wouldn't be the first time, as close encounters with dusty filaments have produced storms of more than 10,000 Draconids per hour in 1933 and 1946 and lesser outbursts in 1985, 1998, and 2005.
A Draconid gliding leisurely across the sky is a beautiful sight, Cooke says.
Though the sunlight will drown out the shower in the U.S., a group of middle school and high school students from Bishop, Calif., plan to observe the shower from the stratosphere where the sky is dark even at noontime.
NASA says the 15 students have been launching helium balloons to the edge of space since May. The space agency added that with more than 95 percent of Earth's atmosphere is below the balloon, sky above looks almost as black as it would from a spacecraft, which is perfect for astronomy.
The students are going to attempt to fly one of our low-light meteor cameras in the payload of their balloon, Cooke says. I hope they catch some Draconid fireballs for us to analyze. They could be the only ones we get.