Draconid Meteor Shower 2020: When, where and how to watch the unpredictable 'shooting star' display

A Draconid meteor streaks across the starry sky over Taos, New  Mexico, in this photo taken by Mike Lewinski on Oct. 5, 2018. (Image credit: Mike Lewinski/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The annual Draconid meteor shower peaks on Wednesday, Oct. 7, but don't get your hopes up for a spectacular sky show.

Even at their peak — which, this year, occurs just after nightfall on Wednesday evening —  the Draconids are usually modest, generating just a few meteors per hour. The waning gibbous moon, with its face about 75% illuminated, will wash out all but the brightest meteors.

The shower, which is typically active from Oct. 6 to Oct. 10 every year, occasionally puts on an incredible display. In 1933, for example, skywatchers in Europe saw up to 500 Draconids per minute, according to Space.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao. And observers throughout the Western United States saw thousands of Draconids per hour at the shower's peak in 1946, he added.

Related: How to see the best meteor showers of 2020

This long-exposure image taken by Jesper Grønne in Denmark shows Draconid meteors streaking through the sky in October 2011. The Draconids were unusually active that year. (Image credit: Jesper Grønne)

The Draconids occur when Earth plows through the stream of debris shed over the eons by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Dramatic outbursts like those of 1933 and 1946 — and lesser ones in 1926, 1952, 1985, 1998 and 2011 — seem "to occur only when the Earth passes just inside Comet Giacobini-Zinner's orbit shortly after the comet itself has gone by," Rao wrote.

Experts aren't predicting that such a close pass will happen this year. So, again: Don't expect a dazzling Draconid storm.

The Draconids "are an all or nothing shower," Cooke told Space.com. "They are rich in faint meteors if they appear."

This sky map shows the Draconid meteor shower's radiant, or the point from which the meteors seem to originate. (Image credit: Starry Night Software)

Most meteor showers are best viewed in the early morning hours. But to maximize your Draconid experience, start observing in the evening this weekend, as soon as it gets dark. 

That's because the constellation Draco, the dragon — the shower's "radiant," or point from which the meteors appear to radiate — is highest in the sky shortly after nightfall.

Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of a Draconid meteor or any other night-sky sight and you'd like to share it with Space.com for a story or image gallery, send images, comments and location information spacephotos@space.com.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

Space.com Senior Writer
Michael was a science writer for the Idaho National Laboratory and has been an intern at Wired.com, The Salinas Californian newspaper, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. He has also worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.