In the next 24 hours, one of the year’s most famous meteor showers reaches its peak activity. It is best to view it after 10 p.m. local time.
Every 75 years or so, the renowned Halley’s Comet travels through the inner solar system, leaving behind clouds of dust and other cosmic debris. The Orionid meteor shower is produced each year at this time when our planet passes through some of those clouds.
To create the brief trains of light we refer to as shooting stars, comet fragments smash with our atmosphere and burn up in an instant. Larger or slower-moving pieces have the potential to ignite as brighter, larger fireballs.
On Thursday evening and into the morning of Friday, the Orionids are expected to be at their height. The American Meteor Society estimates that under ideal circumstances, skywatchers could see 15 to 20 meteors every hour. The shower occasionally shocks us with spurts then triple that amount.
In a blog article for AMS, Bob Lunsford of the American Meteor Society writes that the ideal time to watch these meteors is from 1 a.m. through dawn (local time). “When activity is at its peak, the origin of these meteors is located just to the east of the dim club of Orion. Additionally, this location is roughly 10 degrees northeast of the Betelgeuse star, a bright orange star (alpha Orionis). One’s fist stretched out straight at an angle of 10 degrees.”
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You can try to follow Lunsford’s advice if you go searching for Orionids, or you can take a shortcut by utilising an app like Stellarium to find Orion. To get the most out of the experience, centre the constellation in your field of vision, although anyone with a reasonably wide vantage point of the night sky will have a good chance of seeing the shooting stars.
Images from throughout the world depict the brilliant 2021 Perseid meteor shower.
Based on the moon is a rather dim crescent on the opposite side of the sky from Orion, this year is better than typical for identifying Orionids on peak night. This implies that fewer weak meteors will be washed away. However, you may always take advantage of the circumstance by looking away from the tiny moon or positioning it as far from your view as you can.
In addition, there are other meteor showers visible this week than the Orionids. A few extra meteors per hour may also be added to the spectacle by the persistent Taurids and a few minor meteor showers. The Taurids move noticeably more slowly, which allows them to produce more brilliant fireballs.
All of this adds up to one of the best nights of the year to enjoy some sky fire. The only element that is truly unpredictable or unaccountable is the amount of cloud cover where you are.
If the weather is good, take advantage of the opportunity by moving as far away from light pollution as you can to a spot with a broad view of the sky where you may relax on a couch or blanket. Spend at least an hour watching, allowing time for your eyes to acclimate to the darkness. Bring the warm clothing you’ll need and some food to fend off the want to head indoors. then unwind and enjoy the performance.
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