Get the coffee on and the deck chairs out – the Orionid meteor shower will be at its peak this week.
The Orionid meteor shower is an event that happens around this time every year when Earth crosses paths with a debris stream from the Halley’s Comet. This year, the peak of activity is expected to be just before sunrise on Thursday 22 October, when Earth travels through the densest part of this debris stream. However, there should be activity throughout the night of Wednesday 21 October.
“The Orionids will probably show weaker activity than usual this year,” said Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, in a statement. However, he added that we should expect to see about 12 meteors per hour. The dark sky won’t just be, hopefully, full of meteors – the night will also be an awesome opportunity to see Jupiter, Venus, the “Dog Star” Sirius and constellations such as Orion, Gemini, and Taurus.
Despite their poetically named alias, meteors are not actually “shooting stars.” The Orionid meteors are pieces of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet which have slammed into our atmosphere at about 66 kilometers (41 miles) per second. Halley’s Comet is a comet visible from Earth every 75-76 years, which was last seen in 1986 and won't be seen again until 2061.
In case you miss this one, more cosmic fireworks are expected on November 18 when the Leonids meteor shower peaks.
Image credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0).