Modelers expected some low but detectable activity from the Draconids before 2018. However, the comet passed through perihelion a few weeks earlier and perhaps there was more to see than predicted. I had not asked for a couple of free days from work because no exceptionally high activity was predicted. I was able to do a first short Draconid session on Sunday evening 7 October.
October 7, 2018
In the evening of the 7th of October the sky was filled with cirrus clouds. But they disappeared after a while and in the period of 19:32 until 20:32 UT I could visually observe the meteors. My four CAMS cameras (CAMS 351, 352, 353 and 354) and the all sky camera already were taking movies and pictures of the sky. I observed from the flat roof of my dormer. In an effective observing time of 60 minutes I counted 7 meteors. The sky was of moderate quality with a decreasing limiting magnitude from 6.1 to 5.7 and some incoming cirrus (F=1.05).
I was observing just a few seconds when at 19:32:37 UT a nice slow magnitude +1 meteor appeared from Cepheus to Cassiopeia. Immediately I thought of a Draconid, but after carefully examining the path between the stars, I dismissed the idea. This meteor was also multi-station captured by some CAMS BeNeLux stations and after calculations carried out by our network coordinator Carl Johannink it appears that this was indeed not a Draconid.
A second bright meteor did have the correct characteristics of a Draconid. At 20:16:16 UT, an orange +2 meteor slowly moved slightly from the right of Polaris towards the star Capella. Direction and speed were correct, so I recorded it as a Draconid. The nice thing was that this meteor appeared in the image field of CAMS 353 on two consecutive registrations. This meteor was also recorded by other CAMS BeNeLux stations and the obtained orbital elements were tested with the D criterion, which clearly showed that this was a Draconid meteor.
Figure 1. Composition of two CAMS recordings of the Draconid of 7 oktober 2018 at 20:16:16 UT
The third fine meteor appeared at 20:24:38 UT. I classified this magnitude 0 meteor as a southern Taurid (STA). De meteor moved from the constellation Perseus to Camelopardalis. This meteor was also captured with one of my CAMS cameras (354) and also from other CAMS BeNeLux stations. Although the calculated radiant position is very close to the position of the STA, a comparison with the D criterion shows that this was not a STA. Classifying such meteors visually is of course very difficult!
Figure 2. Composition of two CAMS recordings of the “fake” Southern Taurid of 7 oktober 2018 at 20:24:38 UT
A total of 7 meteors were observed, 1 Draconid, 1 Delta Aurigid and 5 sporadic meteors. Thanks to the beautiful meteors this was a nice session. After this session, I set the alarm twice to see if the starry sky was clear enough. Unfortunately, the cirrus clouds remained present throughout the night. The CAMS and all-sky systems did run all night. A thank you to Carl Johannink for doing the calculations cited above.
8/9 October 2018
Again the observations were made from the flat roof of my dormer. A night with every now and then a lot of cirrus. Yet several observing attempts were made. The first session was from 18:28 to 19:33 UT. After 19:33 UT the cirrus became too thick to do useful observations. Clearly detectable Draconid activity was seen during that period despite the moderate conditions. The lm increased from 5.9 to 6.0 and then decreasing again to 5.7. SQM did not exceed 19.57. Yet I observed 6 Draconids of resp. +3, +4, +2, +3, +4 and +4.
After this short session I took a short sleep and set the alarm at 23:00 UT.
23 UT: a quick look outside: the sky is “clear”. There was some cirrus but the lm was pretty good: 6.0. As soon as I started the observations at 23:15 UT the first Draconids were seen. Despite the low limiting magnitude and the thin cirrus, the Draconids were clearly active!
Although the cirrus was variable, just like the lm (between 5.8 and 6.1) I could observe until 01:46 UT. In those 2.50 effective observing time I saw 48 DRA, 3 DAU, 3 STA and 18 SPO (a total of 72 meteors). Not the numbers of other known observers, but that says a lot more about the bad circumstances at Ermelo that night. Draconids are beautiful meteors, they look fragile, sometimes with multiple flares and fragmentation. The most beautiful Draconids were of course the brighter ones. For example, a beautiful -1 Draconid was observed by me and also captured by CAMS 354 (figure 2).
Looking back at this, I could have started a little earlier, but actually this was the maximum feasible given the fact that I had to work again the 9th October during the day. It is a nice feeling that I have seen the Draconid outburst of 2018.
Figure 3. The Draconid outburst in full progress! These Draconids were captured on Oktober 8, 2018 between 22 and 00 UT.