The highly anticipated Orionid meteor shower will be peaking this week, on the night of October 21, into the early hours of October 22.
It appears that sky watchers have had quite a busy month, as the Draconid meteor shower has also captured their eyes on October 8. Now, the new celestial spectacle will involve a similar display of bright, yet elusive meteors, which will be radiating from the constellation called Orion (The Hunter).
“The Orionoids are popular among stargazers because all of its individual shooting stars are fragments of the most famous comet of all time, Halley’s Comet”, explained Bob Berman, astronomer at the Slooth Community Observatory.
Halley’s Comet, officially known as 1P, is the only short-period comet which can be seen with the naked eye, and it is also the only one that humans might view twice in a lifetime. Usually, it is visible from Earth every 75-76 years: the last time it appeared in the night sky was in 1986, and it will be on display again in 2061.
During its highly elliptical orbit round the Sun, as the comet passes through the inner solar system like it happened in 1986, some of its ice is sublimated, and tiny pieces of rock and dust are ejected.
These appear as meteors when they pierce through Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the annual celestial show is known as the Orionid meteor shower.
This year’s event has started on October 3, and as astronomers explain, those who wish to enjoy this phenomenon are advised to look towards the Orion constellation. This star pattern appears in the south-southeast part of the sky and includes the distinctly red and bright star Betelgeuse.
It is predicted that at the event’s maximum point, around 10 to 20 meteors will be visible every hour, from midnight until dawn.
Unlike shooting stars from other meteor showers, which are more faint and difficult to detect, the Orionids are usually incredibly bright, and they also leave a persistent trail behind.
Moreover, if the phenomenon is viewed from a dark rural area, far away from light pollution, stargazers might also see fireballs in the sky, some colored in green or yellow.
It appears that weather conditions permitting, the Orionids will be identified with ease, since the moon will set several hours in advance of the ideal observation period.
While there might be clouds in New England, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, there will be clear skies in the Southeast, from North Carolina to Arkansas, and also in Florida.
Those who miss the sky spectacle’s peak still have a chance of catching a shooting star the following days, as the Orionid meteor shower will continue until November 14.
The ideal circumstances for witnessing this astronomical occurrence involve being away from the city, and from artificial light sources.
People should bring cosy blankets or comfortable chairs, and lie down under the clear sky, without any obstructions overhead. No binoculars or telescopes will be required, as the Orionids can be easily noticeable with the naked eye.
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