Orionid meteor shower will peak this weekend

Bright meteors are composed of debris from Halley's Comet.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Oct 21, 2017
The Orionid meteor shower, whose meteors are made up of debris from Halley's Comet, will reach its peak this weekend, between October 20 and 22.

Because Earth enters the cometary debris field practically head on, the Orionids are among the fastest and brightest of meteors. Their name comes from the fact that they appear to radiate from the constellation Orion.

Viewers should look in the direction of Orion's sword, slightly north of the red giant star Betelgeuse, which is his left shoulder.

Peak visibility each night is around 2 AM. The Moon will not affect viewing, as it is in the first quarter phase and sets early in the evening.

At the shower's peak, observers can see between 20 and 80 meteors per hour. According to Bill Cooke, a NASA meteor expert, that number will likely be at the low end this year, as it was in 2016.

Cooke advises viewers to not just stare at the radiant in Orion but to also look away from it "because meteors close to the radiant have short trails and are harder to see."

As tiny as grains of sand, the debris particles are officially referred to as meteoroids until they fall into Earth's atmosphere, at which point they are designated as meteors.

Orion meteors can speed through the sky as fast as 148,000 miles (238,000 km) per hour. As they enter Earth's atmosphere, they heat up, creating their signature bright trails.

The majority of meteors burn up in the atmosphere, never reaching the ground. A small percent do survive and are known as meteorites.

For the best viewing, observers should seek dark sky areas rather than those affected by light pollution. Ideally, they should spend 20 minutes outside before the shower, allowing their vision to adapt to the dark.

While the best viewing will be this weekend, the Orionids will be visible for two weeks, from October 15-29.

Meteor showers are best viewed with the naked eye rather than with binoculars or telescopes, as the latter are designed for viewing stationary rather than moving objects.

 

 

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