As meteors showers go, it’s pretty modest, but the Orionids do have one claim to fame – each and every shooting star you see is part of the debris shed from the most famous of all icy visitors, Halley’s Comet.
The Orionids are mostly caused by sand-grain sized pebbles ionizing in the upper atmosphere as they race across the sky at supersonic speeds. Orionids by the way are known to produce some of the fastest meteors you will ever see. These space pebbles are floating in a cloud that orbits the Sun and every year around the same dates our planet smashes into this cloud and produces the sky show we see. Like most of these cosmic showers, the Orionid cloud is left behind debris thrown off by a comet as it orbit our Sun. In fact the cloud follows the same orbit as its parent comet does. In Orionids case however, it has a more noble pedigree than most because its parent comet is considered a superstar amongst its kind.
Also, just like all other meteor showers, the Orionids gets its name from the constellation it appear to originate from in the sky, what astonomers call the shower’s radiant. In this case each and every streak of light you see can be traced back to the area in the sky occupied by the mythical hunter Orion – specifically just above it’s bright orange star Betelgeuse (see above starchart).
This annual meteor shower officially runs from October 2nd to November 7th however there is a marked increase in activity (ie. higher number of meteors per hour) during the week of October 17 to October 25th. The actual peak time is late night, Tuesday, October 20th into early morning hours of Wednesday October 21st. During that small viewing window the numbers go up to 20 to 30 meteors per hour. Your best chances of seeing most of the show is away from the light pollution of the city in a dark country location. Look towards the northeast overhead skies – where Orion will rise near midnight. No need for a telescope or binocular – just cover up with winter gear and lay back on a reclining lawn chair with lots of blankets and a hot chocolate, and enjoy the show!.
This year’s conditions will be in our favour because during the Orionids peak dawn hours the crescent Moon will remain below the horizon, making for a darker sky. But even if you can’t get away from suburbia, you can still look for fireballs as the Orionids are particularly known to produce these superbright meteors during its peak week.
So while you may have missed Halley’s comet back in 1986, and may not be around for its next retun in 2061, you get a chance this week to see part of this cosmic rock star’s show as its entourage and groupies make their appearance in the night sky this week.
Editor’s note: I have gotten a few reports from southern Ontario region of bright fireballs being seen Saturday night. Depending on the direction of where they seem to originate from ie. Orion constellation area, these could be early members of the Orionid meteor shower. When you do see one of these shooting stars, try tracing their path back across the sky. This helps out a lot in IDing them.
Tags: Halley's comet, meteor shower, Orionids
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