How to Watch the Orionid Meteor Shower This Weekend

Friday, 20 October 2017 - 10:24AM
Friday, 20 October 2017 - 10:24AM
How to Watch the Orionid Meteor Shower This Weekend
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Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Ryan Hallock
It's been a great week for stargazing - and it's about to get even better as the Orionid meteor shower lights up the sky this weekend.

Yesterday, the planet Uranus was particularly bright and shiny in the night's sky, thanks to its relative position to both Earth and the sun.

This weekend, not to be outdone, debris from Halley's comet is going to be raining down in a beautiful light show that occurs annually every October.

Most visible from October 20-22, the Orionid meteor shower is comprised of small flecks of dust, ice, and rock, that have been left behind as Halley's comet whizzes around the solar system. While the comet itself doesn't get particularly close to Earth more than every 75 years, our planet periodically passes through Halley's debris, resulting in two big meteor showers a year.

The Orionid shower is the easiest to spot in the sky for those who either know a little about constellations, or remember the stargazing facts dispensed by the original Men in Black movie.

Named for its relative location in the sky, the Orionid shower takes place to the top left-hand side of the Orion constellation - just look for three stars in a line together, then look up to the left to find Orion's arm raised, and there you'll see some pretty meteors.

Of course, to get the best view of the meteor shower, you'll need to stay up late.

Orion, and the Orionids, will be best visible after 2 a.m., so the majority of would-be stargazers may be tucked up in bed before the light show begins.

For those who do plan on staying up, the good news is that this shouldn't require any special equipment.

Unlike Uranus, which is still visible in the sky and can be seen best through a telescope or a pair of binoculars, these meteors are easier to see with the naked eye - fancy equipment doesn't tend to help when watching out for moving objects that whizz across the sky. Lie flat on your back, gazing up at the stars, and if you keep your eyes peeled up by Orion's arm, you'll see around 20-30 meteors an hour (possibly more, if you're lucky).

Orionid meteors will be visible all week, but this weekend is conveniently the best time to spot the shower, as the lights will be at their brightest, and will also be traveling the fastest through the sky. Earth is passing directly through the cloud of debris over the next few days, which means that the meteors will be whooshing past around us as we continue on our orbit.

It's worth noting that there's no need to fear one of these meteors will crash down on you as you're stargazing - the majority of the meteors are tiny, some no bigger than a grain of sand, and almost all of them burn up long before coming anywhere near the surface of the planet. Earth's atmosphere provides friction for these particles, which causes them to heat up and catch fire once they're caught in our gravitational pull; that's what causes the burst of beautiful light as they travel across our sky.

Tonight's meteor shower is going to be a spectacular show, so if you're eager to see it - or you just happen to be awake at 2 a.m. anyway - here's hoping you get a good view.

If the sky's cloudy, that'll probably ruin the fun, but at least the shower will be viewable all weekend, giving you plenty of chances to catch a glimpse.
How to Watch the Orionid Meteor Shower This Weekend