Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Early Sunday Morning

By Sally Appert
Sally Appert
Sally Appert
works with Cassie Ryan science articles China article
October 19, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

Meteors from Halley’s Comet will light up the night sky before dawn on Sunday, Oct. 21, when the Orionid meteor shower is at its best.

“We expect to see about 25 meteors per hour when the shower peaks …,” said meteor expert Bill Cooke in a NASA release. “With no moon to spoil the show, observing conditions should be ideal.”

The Orionids appear to radiate from the constellation Orion, which will be high in the sky before dawn on Sunday. However, the meteors can be seen in any part of the sky, and some of them may be visible earlier in the night or on the surrounding nights.

No matter what time zone you’re in, the best time to watch the Orionids and most meteor showers is between midnight and dawn.

Each Orionid meteor is really a tiny piece of Halley’s Comet burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth crosses paths with the comet’s trail of debris twice a year in October and May, causing the Orionid and Eta Aquarid meteor showers.

“The Orionid meteor shower isn’t the strongest, but it is one of the most beautiful showers of the year,” said Cooke. “Be prepared for speed.”

“Meteoroids from Halley’s Comet strike Earth’s atmosphere traveling 148,000 miles per hour. Only the November Leonids are faster.”

Some of these fast meteors may explode and become fireballs, which can leave lingering trails.

“It really is a wonderful morning to be awake,” said Cooke. “Just don’t plan on going anywhere in a hurry.”

If you watch the shower before dawn, you may notice a triangle formed by three bright objects in the sky: Venus in the east, Jupiter high in the south, and Sirius the Dog Star near Orion. Some of the meteors might streak across this triangle.

Those objects, along with constellations like Taurus and Gemini, are interesting things to observe while you lie back and wait for meteors.

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Sally Appert
works with Cassie Ryan science articles China article