No one likes to be underestimated, least of all a celestial giant.   

Saturday, Oct. 8 presents an opportunity to see the first of two October meteor showers. On that date will be a show of the draconids, named for their proximity to the Draco the dragon constellation.  

The second chance will be on or around Oct. 21, when the orionids can be seen. It is the first firedrake that has oft been maligned and underrated.  

Described by astronomers as “a sleeper” and a “less interesting meteor shower,” the draconids might not get their due. But history shows that this meteor shower can and does periodically make a bright and brilliant display, and its light potential should not be taken lightly.  

Meteor showers occur when the earth crosses the orbit of a comet. In the case of the draconids, Comet 21P Gracobini-Zinner leaves behind celestial traces in its orbital path. When this debris collides with the earth’s upper atmosphere and burns up, it produces streaks of light — meteor showers — that are often termed shooting stars. 

Ancient civilizations, taking note of these streaks in the otherwise-constant heavens, naturally assumed they were especially meaningful messages from the gods, portending a good or evil future. 

The draconid are associated with a special type of constellation. Draco the dragon is considered a circumpolar constellation because it never sets below the horizon and can be observed all year. It is the eighteenth largest constellation and is found in the sky between the Big and Little Dippers. It is also a commonly-overlooked figure in the sky. 

Draco can be difficult to locate because there are no super-bright stars to make it distinguishable. There are two stars that can be identified and that serve as the origin of the draconids. Eltanin and Rastaban are the dragon eyes from which the meteors radiate. Some say that the meteors seem to be coming out of the dragon’s mouth, an evocative visual representation that is both fierce and romantic. 

In a normal year for the draconids, there may be 10 meteors per hour. Throughout history, though, there have been exceptional years that produced many, many more. Notably, 1933: in Europe, the draconids, also called the giacobinids, threw off about 600 meteors per hour. 

Other bonus years included 1946, 1998, 2005, 2011 and 2012 — who knows what this year will bring — when more than 1,000 meteors per hours were observed. What a light show it was, called the most impressive of the twentieth century. Take that, naysayers.   

What will happen on Saturday remains to be seen. However, pessimists suggest that it won’t be a great show because the moon will be full and so bright as to drown out the flares. Meteor showers can be especially brilliant on new or small moons that keep the sky dark.    

Another reason to like the draconids is that they can be seen in the evening whereas most meteor showers are seen in the overnight early morning hours. This is a benefit for those of us with an early bedtime.   

So, gaze in the northwest sky on Saturday at nightfall to look for the meteors. Hope for a show seen even in the well-lit night sky. No promises but don’t underestimate the power of this particular dragon on this particular night. It might just awaken and shoot fire and meteors from its mouth, enchanting all of us — even the star show cynics. 

Suzan Bellincampi is islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.