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"We're predicting as many as 750 meteors per hour," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The timing of the shower favors observers in the Middle East, north Africa and parts of Europe."
Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner in Nov. 1998 photographed by astronomers at Kitt Peak.Every 6.6 years Comet Giacobini-Zinner swings through the inner solar system. With each visit, it lays down a narrow filament of dust, over time forming a network of filaments that Earth encounters every year in early October.
"Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by," says Cooke. "Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on--and the fireworks begin."
2011 could be such a year. Forecasters at NASA and elsewhere agree that Earth is heading for three or more filaments on October 8th. Multiple encounters should produce a series of variable outbursts beginning around 1600 Universal Time (noon EDT) with the strongest activity between 1900 and 2100 UT (3:00 pm – 5:00 pm EDT).
Forecasters aren't sure how strong the display will be, mainly because the comet had a close encounter with Jupiter in the late 1880s. At that time, the giant planet's gravitational pull altered the comet's orbit and introduced some uncertainty into the location of filaments it has shed since then. Competing models place the filaments in slightly different spots; as a result, estimated meteor rates range from dozens to hundreds per hour.