Observations by BAA members and by non-members who have so far communicated with the Director of the Meteor Section confirm that a short-lived outburst of Draconid meteors occurred on 2011 October 8.
Draconid rates were generally low until around 1900 UT on October 8 when a rapid increase in activity occurred, peaking between 2005 and 2015 UT. Thereafter there was a rapid decline, with Draconid meteor rates returning to a low level by 2130 UT. A very preliminary analysis of visual observations made by a group of observers led by the Director, observing from near Goreme in central Turkey, indicates that the peak equivalent ZHR was about 350 m/h between 2005 and 2015 UT, although correction factors are high due to the effect of bright moonlight. It is possible that lesser, short-lived secondary bursts in Draconid activity were also noted around 1915 and 1938 UT.
Observers in the UK had to contend with cloud and rain on the evening of October 8, but it is extremely encouraging that so many individuals and local society groups battled the elements in the hope of getting a view of the shower. Some were rewarded for their persistence. A short period of partially clear weather enabled observers in Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Berkshire (and hopefully other areas as well) to glimpse the shower between 1955 and 2030 UT. By a fortunate circumstance this was coincident with the main peak in Draconid activity.
The Director is extremely grateful to all those observers in the UK who have so far communicated with him by email, including: Len Entwisle, Peter Gill (Eastbourne AS), Gerard Gilligan (Liverpool AS), Tim Haymes (Maidenhead AS), Brian Heath (Nottingham AS), Nick James, Gordon MacLeod, Bob Mizon, Alex Pratt, George Spalding and David Swain.
More observations of the Draconid outburst, using photographic, visual, and radio techniques, from individuals and groups in the UK and overseas, are urgently required to build up a full picture of the shower’s rapidly changing activity. Even if you have only glimpsed a few meteors during a short-lived break in the clouds, the Section would like to receive your report. Simple counts of meteors seen within given time periods will also be welcome. It is intended that a summary of all the observations received, crediting all of the individual observers and society groups, will be published in the BAA Journal as soon as all observations have been received and the analysis completed.
There must be many observers – including many non BAA members – who witnessed the peak of the shower, and we would like to encourage all these people to submit their observations to the Section, either via email to:
or by post to:
Draconid Meteor Project 2011
British Astronomical Association
London W1J 0DU
Exmoor National Park has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association.
This means that the UK now has three International Dark Sky places – with Exmoor joining Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park in Scotland and the Dark Sky Community of the Channel Island of Sark.
Bob Mizon and Martin Morgan-Taylor of the BAA Campaign For Dark Skies surveyed the Exmoor Park in August as part of the approval process. Sky Quality Meters were used for quantitative measurements, which gave readings which compared favourably with Sark.
The Milky Way was clearly visible high overhead, with considerable structure.
Exmoor does have some light pollution near to the horizon. However, this did not appear to have much bearing on the SQM readings. Exmoor is very dark for England, given the high population density, and this new status will help to protect the night sky in Exmoor.
The Exmoor National Park Authority will be running a programme of activities for community groups in and around the National Park as part of a nationwide Dark Sky programme this winter.
There is the possibility of an unusual outburst of Draconid meteors on the evening of Saturday, 8 October 2011. The meteors are connected with periodic comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, so the shower is also known as the Giacobinids.
The Earth intersects a number of dust trails laid down by the parent comet during the evening of 8 October.
The first and most probably weaker outburst, due to a number of rather old trails, is likely to occur sometime after 16h UT, but the timing is uncertain and will favour observers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
A second and more likely stronger outburst is possible sometime between 19h and 21h UT but the outburst, if it occurs, is likely to be sharp and brief.
Observations across all longitudes are important, but it will be essential for would-be observers to be far enough north to ensure that the radiant is at a respectable altitude above the horizon at that time.
The peak rates of these outbursts are highly uncertain, and no meteor storm is likely. Estimated peak levels of meteor activity range from 40 meteors per hour to 800 meteors per hour. The only way to find out what happens is to go out and look for yourself!
Unfortunately, there will be a waxing gibbous Moon in Aquarius, less than four days from full at the time of peak Draconid activity, so there will some interference from moonlight. Observers should look to the northern half of the sky, keeping the Moon behind them.
The radiant of the shower will be near the star Nu Draconis in the ‘head’of Draco. Draconid meteors are typically very slow moving, in marked contrast to members of showers such as the Perseids or Leonids.
From the British Isles, observers should go out as soon as twilight falls on the evening of Saturday, 8 October.
Observations will also be of considerable value on the evenings immediately before and after the predicted peak to provide a check on background meteor rates at this time. Let’s hope for clear skies everywhere on the evenings of 7, 8 and 9 October 2011, but particularly on the 8th!
The BAA Meteor Section would welcome any observations of the Draconid meteor shower this year from individuals or local society groups, using any of the observing methods outlined on the BAA website. Visit our Draconid Meteor Project page’. Even simple counts of meteors seen within given time periods will be welcome.
It is intended that a summary of all the observations received, crediting all of the individual observers and society groups, will be published in the BAA Journal as soon as possible after the event.
Soaring temperatures did not deter over 80 people from attending the BAA Back to Basics Beginners’ Meeting hosted by the Cotswold Astronomical Society at Cheltenham last Saturday (1st October).
Talks and workshop sessions on Solar observing (Peter Meadows), Lunar observing (Martin Morgan-Taylor), Planets (David Arditti), and Astro-Imaging (Rik McRae) were complemented with a general overview and equipment talk by Callum Potter.
An excellent lunch kept everyone well nourished for the afternoon session.
And during the lunch break, solar H-Alpha scopes were set up outside and a number of sunspots and small prominances were seen.
Much thanks goes to the Cotswold Astronomical Society, local organisers of the event.
In 2012 the BAA will be holding two more of these Back to Basics meetings – in Newbury on March 17, and in Bedford on October 7th (Sunday).
Here are a few photos of the day (taken by Tony Ireland of the Cotswold Astronomical Society).