The last quarter moon is Oct. 9, so it rises late now and gives us evening skies to observe. Currently the Draconid Meteors are occurring, and peak Oct. 8. So, tonight is a good time to go out and look for them. They’re meteors being spit out from the constellation Draco the Dragon.
Meteors actually look like shooting stars. These are active Oct. 6-10. Unfortunately, this is a very modest meteor shower with only a few moving meteors each hour. The good thing is that they’re high up in the NW above the Little Dipper. This is an early evening event, so go out to look for them as soon as the sky gets dark. The Big Dipper is very low in the sky now, and you may not be able to see it, but the Little Dipper is higher up above it.
Draco the Dragon is a large constellation that curls around the Little Dipper, also known as Ursa Minor. It’s the eighth largest constellation in our sky, but it doesn’t contain bright stars. It also lacks star nebulae and star clusters. But it does have some faint galaxies, and one interesting planetary nebulae.
Draco has 18 stars and is one of the closest constellations to the North Pole. It’s a giant circumpolar shape visible all year but is actually brightest in late spring. The tail begins between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Then it wraps around Ursa Minor and moves up to the Milky Way. Then it turns left, goes a little bit farther, and then forms a head. So it looks like a big S.
Its brightest star is Thubon which 5,000 years ago was the North Pole star. It’s a blue white giant that’s about 3,000 LY away. So it’s not very bright due to its distance from us.
The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the brightest planetary nebulae. It’s up high in the NW in the middle of the upper part of the S. This is a dying sun like star that is emitting extremely hot gasses. Since it’s so far away, it’s best seen with a telescope, but binoculars will show you some of it. Our Sun will do this in 5 billion years.
Another interesting thing is that the Quandrantid Meteor shower erupts from Draco the beginning of January. It’s one of the heaviest meteor showers, but only lasts for a few hours one night. I’ll tell you about that close to its time.