Draconid Meteor shower, 2011. AP PHOTO
The Draconid meteor shower will sweep across U.S. skies early Monday evening just after sunset.
Although not among the showiest showers of the year, the Draconids stand out for one reason: Unlike most meteor showers, they are best seen in the evening rather than before dawn. That makes them a great introduction to sky-watching because they don't require getting up early.
The shower this year should also be good watching because the moon is waxing and won't reflect enough light to significantly interfere with the display.
Some Draconids should also be visible just after sunset Tuesday evening, but that display is not expected to be as large.
Last year's Draconid shower was especially lively, which means this year the meteors are likely to be a little more sedate, according to EarthSky, a science news blog.
The name comes from the way the meteors appear to emanate from the northern constellation Draco the Dragon, which sits just above the Little Dipper in the night sky.
The meteors are the result of tiny bits of dust and ice debris left behind by the Giacobini-Zinner comet, which circles the sun every 6.6 years. As the Earth passes through this trail of cosmic debris, the particles burn up in our atmosphere, creating the fiery trails we call falling stars.
The Draconids are notoriously unpredictable. Some years they are impressive, with thousands of falling stars per hour, and other years they are much more sedate. Showers in 1933 and 1946 were especially large.
To get the best view, find an area away from city lights so the eyes can adjust to the darkness for at least 20 minutes. Astronomers suggest lying on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view.
"If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision," says Rebecca Johnson, editor of StarDate magazine.
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