Meteor showers are one of the most exciting astronomical events you can experience. You stand out under a starry sky, patiently waiting and watching the countless pinpricks of light over head, and then – suddenly! – a streak of light flashes across the sky, as a tiny piece of cometary debris enters and burns up in the earth’s atmosphere.
Perhaps the reason meteor showers are so fascinating is because they remind us that there is a lot of stuff in space – more than we can see or imagine – and our planet is constantly moving through patches of “dirty” space, filled with debris. This is why people flock outdoors for some of the best meteor showers of the year (the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December), and why meteor showers make headlines, even when they turn out to be duds (lookin’ at you, Tau Herculids…).
The Draconids meteor shower is one of those meteor showers that often makes headlines – and, speaking frankly, often turns out to be a bit of a dud. With the Draconids, there’s a chance that any given year might be an outburst year with thousands of meteors per hour, but for the most part, it’s a standard minor meteor shower in the autumn.
If you have your heart set on seeing this year’s Draconids meteor shower no matter how much activity there is this year, read on for everything you need to know to see Draconids meteors in 2023.
This post was originally published in September 2022, and was updated in September 2023.
When to See the Draconids
Like most meteor showers, there are two important sets of dates to keep in mind when you try to see the Draconids:
- The Draconids meteor shower will occur from October 6-10 this year; during this window, there is a varying amount of meteoric activity that you can see on any given night from the radiant point near the constellation Perseus.
- The Draconids meteor shower will peak on the evening of October 9 in 2023. After sunset on this day, you’ll see the most meteoric activity during the entire shower.
When most people ask “when can you see the Draconids,” they’re inquiring about that peak day or days – October 9th, this year.
Origins of the Draconids Meteor Shower
Let’s break down the idea of a “peak” during a meteor shower a little bit more. Basically, when a meteor shower occurs, the earth passes through a stream of debris left by a comet or asteroid. In the case of the Draconids, the debris which form the Draconids meteor shower are left by the periodic comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. This comet has an orbital period of about 6.6 years; it was last spotted near our part of the solar system in 2018, and will next pass by earth in 2025.
This trail of debris is more dispersed on the outer limits, and more densely populated with meteoroids near the middle. So when a meteor shower like the Draconids begins (and ends), the meteor activity is less – we’re passing through a less dense part of the comet’s trail; as we approach (and leave) the peak days, the meteor activity gets more frequent. On those peak nights, when we experience the greatest meteor activity since we’re passing through the densest part of the debris trail.
The Peak of the Draconids in 2023
Astronomers describe the “greatest meteor activity” using a metric called Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR). This is the maximum (zenith) rate of meteors you’ll see in an hour. The Draconids are a variable meteor shower – some years there’s a lot of activity (called an outburst), and other years there’s hardly any.
As already stated, the peak of the Draconids will occur on the evening of October 9, 2023, after sunset. It’s expected to be a normal year (no outburst), so during peak activity, the ZHR will be about 10 meteors per hour.
One last note: unlike past years, the moon is in a favorable phase for viewing the Draconids in 2023. The moon will be a waning crescent, and just about 20% illuminated on the night of the 9th, which means it won’t present much interference to spotting Draconid meteors as they shoot through the sky.
Where to See the Draconids
When you ask “where can I see the Draconids?,” again – there are two answers:
- The first answer is about where you can see the Draconids in the night sky
- The second is about where you should go on earth to see the Draconids
Let’s break each one down.
The Draconids take their name from the constellation Draco, which appears in the northern hemisphere, and partly between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. The reason the Draconids are named after the constellation Draco is that they appear to radiate from a point near the constellation; this is called the “radiant point.” (I already mentioned the radiant point relating to the Moon, if this helps make more sense of that term.)
So regarding the first answer to where to see the Draconids, the answer is: near the constellation Draco. As long as you’re in the northern hemisphere and can see Draco above the horizon (use a star-finder app, like Night Sky), you should be able to see Draconid meteors.
In terms of where on earth to see the Draconids, there’s a lot of flexibility. Obviously, as mentioned, you need to be in the northern hemisphere, since Draco is a northern constellation. Also, it helps to be in a dark sky location, rather than near a city or town with bright lights. The darker the sky you can drive to, the better experience you’ll have! Here are more tips on seeing how to see the Draconids this year.
Tips on Seeing the Draconid Meteor Shower
Here’s a quick list of tips to help make your Draconids viewing a success:
- Find a dark sky location. Use our city stargazing guides to find a place 1-2 hours from where you live, or peruse our World Space Tourism Guide to find dark sky places around the globe.
- Plan for a night during peak activity. As mentioned, the peak of the Draconids will be on the evening of October 9th, which is a Sunday. If you wait until the weekend, your chances of seeing these meteors is basically zero, since the shower will have ended.
- Look throughout the whole sky, rather than focusing on the radiant point. While the radiant point is helpful in trying to spot meteors, it’s actually better to scan the whole sky around the radiant point so you’ll see Draconids as they streak away from that area. (As mentioned, the moon is going to cause problems with this, but we’ll do the best we can!)
- Bring layers. It gets chilly at night, no matter where in the world you live! Bring extra clothing so your night of spotting meteors isn’t affected by being cold!
Special Equipment for Viewing the Draconids
You don’t need any special equipment to view the Draconids meteor shower, which is great. A telescope and binoculars won’t really work because meteors move so fast as they enter the atmosphere – your eyes alone are good enough!
If you want to try and photograph meteors, here are some resources to help:
- Here is our list of the best cameras for astrophotography, based on any budget.
- We have a list of astrophotography tips that will help you get acquainted with all the mechanics of shooting photos at night.
- Lastly, while it’s a similar topic, our post with aurora photography tips is helpful because some of the principles are similar for shooting meteor showers.
In general, the best thing to do is find a shutter speed, aperture, and ISO setting that allow you to capture the stars and any meteors in the frame you’re shooting. You may or may not see meteors with your eyes, but if you have your camera settings right, they’ll show up in the photos! (Many astrophotographers discover meteors in their photos even on non-meteor shower nights!)
Do you have any other questions about trying to see the 2023 Draconids meteor shower? let us know in the comments!