Watching the dragon spit fire

Oct 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- This video catches the moment when a Draconid meteor exploded in Earth's atmosphere earlier this month. The dramatic footage comes from a campaign to observe this important meteor shower using aircraft to beat the clouds.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A Draconid meteor burns up as a fireball in the atmosphere of Earth on 8 October 2011.

On the evening of Saturday 8 October, Earth plunged through a stream of dust and rocks that had been expelled into space by the Giacobini–Zinner. The resultant lit the skies over Europe with shooting stars.

The display radiates from the constellation of Draco, The Dragon, giving the name of "Draconids" to this shower which occurs at the same time every year as the Earth passes through the debris trail. In 2011, however, there was a difference. Astronomers had predicted an unusually high numbers of as Earth was due to encounter particularly dense patches of the cometary detritus.

Detlef Koschny, leader of the Meteor Research Group at ESA, led the Agency's involvement in a project to find out if the prediction was right.

With cameras and other equipment packed into two Falcon-20 research planes, Detlef's colleagues took to the skies over Europe to rise above the and watch for meteors.

"The Draconids peaked as predicted. A small peak at 17:30 GMT and then a larger one at 20:05 GMT," says Detlef.

The two planes flew on parallel tracks roughly 100 km apart as the researchers pointed their cameras at the same volume of Earth's . The data they collected will allow each meteor to be triangulated, to determine its altitude and trajectory. Typically, meteors burn up between 80-120 km above the ground, well above the cruising altitude of an airliner. This will give updated information about the meteor stream itself, and the way the comet ejected the material.

It has been calculated that most of the meteors hitting Earth that night were ejected by comet Giacobini–Zinner in 1900 and have been circling the Sun ever since.

The team also recorded the spectrum of at least one meteor, which will reveal its chemical composition.

The Draconid meteor stream is important to understand because, like other streams, it can pose a danger to orbiting spacecraft. The tiny impacts can damage solar panels or sensitive optics.

The Draconids tend to be overlooked in favour of more visible displays such as the Leonids in November. This could be a mistake according to Detlef: "The Draconids move more slowly relative to , so we don't see all of the smaller ones burning up. But they are still there, probably as many in number as the Leonids, only its harder to find them."

Explore further: First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Saturday's Draconid meteors may be no-see-ums

Oct 05, 2011

(AP) -- Heads-up, meteor fans. As many as 750 meteors an hour are expected Saturday, as Earth travels through streams of dust and ice from Comet Giacobini-Zinner. The comet passes through the inner solar ...

Draconid meteor outburst

Oct 05, 2011

On October 8th Earth is going to plow through a stream of dust from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, and the result could be an outburst of Draconid meteors.

Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Wednesday

Nov 12, 2010

The Leonid meteor shower best viewing this year will be in the two to three hours before dawn on Nov. 17 and 18, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.

Geminid meteor shower to peak on 14th December 2009

Dec 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The annual Geminid meteor shower is predicted to peak at 0510 GMT on 14th December. Meteors (or ‘shooting stars’) are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, heating ...

June lyrid meteor shower underway

Jun 15, 2011

Although there’s more than enough Moon to go around right now, while you’re waiting on the eclipse, you just might want to see if you can spot a few stray meteors belonging to the June Lyrids. Thanks to John Chumack, ...

Recommended for you

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

13 hours ago

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

How many moons does Venus have?

20 hours ago

There are dozens upon dozens of moons in the Solar System, ranging from airless worlds like Earth's Moon to those with an atmosphere (most notably, Saturn's Titan). Jupiter and Saturn have many moons each, ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

How many moons does Venus have?

There are dozens upon dozens of moons in the Solar System, ranging from airless worlds like Earth's Moon to those with an atmosphere (most notably, Saturn's Titan). Jupiter and Saturn have many moons each, ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

Phase transiting to a new quantum universe

(Phys.org) —Recent insight and discovery of a new class of quantum transition opens the way for a whole new subfield of materials physics and quantum technologies.

Imaging turns a corner

(Phys.org) —Scientists have developed a new microscope which enables a dramatically improved view of biological cells.