Over the next few days, one of the year’s most reliable meteor showers will fill the night sky with shooting stars.
The offspring of Comet Halley will grace the early morning hours as they return once again as the Orionids. Although Comet Halley has long since departed our Solar System, the debris left from its trail still remain scattered in Earth’s orbital path around the Sun, allowing us to predict when this meteor shower will occur. We first enter the “stream” at the beginning of October and we don’t leave it until the beginning of November, making our chances of “catching a falling star” even greater! These meteors are very fast, and although they are faint, it’s still possible to see an occasional fireball that leaves a persistent trail.
For best success, try to get away from city lights; face the south-southeast and enjoy the stars of the fall Milky Way. The radiant, or apparent point of origin, for this shower will be near the red giant Alpha Orionis (Betelguese), but meteors may occur from any point in the sky. And be prepared for speed; meteoroids from Halley’s Comet strike Earth’s atmosphere traveling 238,000 km/h; only the November Leonids are faster. In this case speed is important because fast meteors have a tendency to explode. Occasionally, Orionid fireballs will leave incandescent streams of debris in their wake that linger for minutes.
The best time to look will be between midnight and dawn. This dependable shower can produce an average of 20-25 meteors per hour. This year, the waxing crescent moon sets well before midnight on October 21, leaving the morning hours dark for meteor watching.
Depending on where you are, there could be clouds in the night sky! Luckily, these showers last several days. Unlike most major annual showers, the Orionids occur over several nights centered on October 22. You could start looking now…
You can make your meteor watching experience much more comfortable if you take along a lawn chair, a blanket and a thermos of your favorite hot beverage.
Sit back, relax and enjoy! Happy Sky watching!