The Orionid Meteor Shower Is About To Peak – Here's How To See It

A meteor streaks through the night sky in the top left of this photograph. NASA

Robin Andrews 19 Oct 2016, 19:20

The gorgeous Orionid meteor shower is headed Earth’s way, and if you’re lucky enough, you may be able to stare up into the beautiful night sky this week to see it.

Emerging from the passage of Halley’s Comet, it is already active, but peak showers will occur between October 20 and 21, with the shower continuing in decreasing intensity until November 14. They will feature fluxes of about 20 to 25 meteors per hour, with each of them streaking through the air at 66 kilometers (41 miles) per second.

If you think there is a chance you can see them, find the constellation of Orion in the Northern Hemisphere – their so-called “radiant point” – and look out for those small chunks of dusty ice streaking through the atmosphere.

“The Orionids are one of the top five meteor showers of the year and will bring the best chance to see a shooting star since the Perseids meteor shower in August,” AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Lada said in a statement. “The best viewing conditions this year will be across the Plains and southwestern US.”

Unfortunately, if you happen to be in the eastern US, you will likely not be able to see the peak shower – a cold front is due to spread clouds and rain across the region. A similar fate awaits the Pacific Northwest.

Known for being particularly bright, if you are lucky enough to have low levels of cloud cover and live in an area not bathing in light pollution, you’ll be in for a spectacular show. However, our lunar companion will still be waning at this point, meaning that any bright moonlight could dampen the view somewhat.

Halley’s Comet, when passing through the Solar System, gets a little hot under the collar. In fact, the temperature differences between the cold reaches of space and the sections of the comet that experience distant sunlight are so extreme that parts of its icy heart sublimate, meaning the ice turns instantly into a gas.

These gaseous outbursts propel some solid segments out into space with them, a handful of which head our way. They subsequently burn up in our planet’s thin blue line whenever we pass through Halley’s debris tail.

As it so happens, this famous comet is actually quite the prolific meteor producer – it’s also responsible for the Eta Aquariids, which fly into Earth each May.

For details about other meteor showers taking place this year, check out this list by NASA.

Image in text: The Constellation of Orion. Till Credner/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Halley's Comet. NASA

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