The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks Tuesday night in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
One of the best meteor showers in the fall is at altitude in the coming nights, giving skywatchers a good opportunity to spot some shooting stars in front of the long but cool winter nights that are just around the corner.
The annual Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak Tuesday night in the early hours of Wednesday morning with about 20 meteors per hour over large parts of the globe. This averages out to a meteor every few minutes.
“The Orionids are a medium-sized shower that sometimes reaches high-intensity activity,”
While it is likely that there are nearly two dozen meteors per hour, there is a chance that this year’s display of the orionids may exceed expectations.
“There is some evidence that a larger than normal peak may occur sometime between 2020 and 2022,” NASA said.
It is unclear how many meteors per hour this translates to, but between 2006 and 2009, which were extraordinary years for the Orionids, observers counted 50-75 meteors per hour, according to the AMS. Despite this chance, spectators should curb expectations for an eruption like this, as meteor showers are known to be difficult to predict.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a dirt field left by a comet. This waste is very small, about the size of a grain of sand, but burns with intensity when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
The comet responsible for the annual orionids is one of the most famous comets: Halley’s comet.
Halley’s Comet sparks two meteor showers each year, Eta Aquarids in early May and Orionids in mid-October, though it only passes through the inner solar system once every 75 years.
While this meteor shower is caused by Halley’s comet, it is named after Orion, as the shooting stars appear to radiate from a point in the sky right next to the constellation.
Like many meteor showers, the best time to see the Orionids will be after midnight, when the glorious point rises and climbs higher up in the sky leading up to dawn.
This year will be a particularly good year for the Orionids as the crescent will set before the radiant point rises in the southeastern sky.
When the moon is above the horizon, it emits natural light pollution that can reduce the total number of shooting stars visible to the naked eye.
Light pollution from nearby cities and highways can still be a problem on a moonless night and is the second most disturbing factor for star gazing for the weather
This year’s reproduction of the orionids is best seen from the southwestern and south-central parts of the United States, where there are mainly clear conditions in the forecast. Some residents of the southeastern United States will also have favorable weather for the biggest night in the shower.
Clouds will be a concern for people all over the Midwest, Ontario, southern Quebec and northern New England as traces of disturbance in the region. Poor eyesight is also likely to be part of the Pacific Northwest and across western parts of Canada.
The rest of the continent will have some clouds to deal with, but there may be enough breaks in the clouds for some meteors to be seen in peak night.
Where it is clear, spectators may gather for the cool October evenings, but it will just be a taste of the weather to get down the road.
The Orionids will be the last moderate meteor shower before the cool winter conditions down over most of North America, making it too cold for some stargazers to enjoy a night under the stars. Stargazers after fairly good weather may have to wait until April or May for the next opportunity to see a meteor shower on a mild night.
After the Orionids, the next meteor shower on the calendar is the Leonids, which peak at night from November 16 to November 17, followed by the highly anticipated twins in the second weekend of December.