Be sure to look up this month.
Although the Orionids meteor shower has been active for the whole month of October it will be at its most vivid between midnight and dawn tonight (Thursday 21 – Friday 22). With the Harvest Moon just gone, the show’s still not over yet, as the Orionids have been making their annual appearance this month and they’re currently peaking. A bright full moon made things a little difficult to see last night but tonight the skies should be clearer.
Described by NASA as “the most beautiful showers of the year”, the Orionids happen each time Comet Halley returns to the inner solar system and its nucleus sheds ice and rocky dust into space, which then turns into the Orionids and the Eta Aquarids which we saw earlier this year.
As for Comet Halley itself, we’re not set to catch a glimpse until 2061 – with the comet taking a whopping 76 years to orbit the sun, making it a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal when it does come around.
So, how come we can see the meteors? Well, the meteors are formed from leftover debris which creates ‘dusty trails’ which cause bright, colorful streaks in the sky when the Earth passes through them in orbit every year.
These ‘dusty trails’ peak from today Thursday, October 21 when viewers are expected to witness up to 20 meteors per hour and will last until November 7. Of course, the best viewing conditions are “well away from city or street lights”. Camp out, anyone?
“Lie flat on your back with your feet facing southeast if you are in the Northern Hemisphere or northeast if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible,” NASA advises. “In less than 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient — the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”
[Featured image from Shutterstock]