The skies are set to mesmerize spectators this weekend with the peak of the Orionids meteor shower, described by NASA as one of the most beautiful showers of the year.
The Orionids, which are remnants of the well-known Halley’s comet, ramp up their activity each fall in late October.
According to NASA, the Orionids are known for their brightness and mind-boggling speed – traveling into Earth’s atmosphere at about 148,000 miles per hour.
Their swift trajectory often leaves behind radiant “trains” that linger and occasionally morph into brilliant fireballs.
While the Orionids meteor shower lasts from September 26 to November 22, the event will reach its peak this weekend. The peak activity will begin after midnight on Friday, October 20, with the most vibrant display taking place in the early morning hours on Sunday.
With the first quarter moon setting around midnight on October 22, moonlight interference will be minimal. At their peak, the Orionids are expected to blaze across the sky at a rate of up to 23 meteors per hour.
“The Orionids are viewable in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres during the hours after midnight. Find an area well away from the city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket, or lawn chair,” says NASA.
“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.”
“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.”
The Orionids are associated with Halley’s Comet, which leaves a trail of debris as it orbits the Sun. When Earth passes through this debris, particles burn up in our atmosphere, creating the meteor shower. Interestingly, Halley’s Comet also gives rise to another meteor shower, the Eta Aquariids, which occurs in early May.
Halley’s Comet is one of the most famous comets, and its periodic appearances have been documented for millennia. The last time Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth was in 1986, and it’s predicted to return in 2061.
The comet is named after the British astronomer Edmond Halley, who first predicted its return in 1758. However, the comet itself has been observed for over 2,000 years.
Halley’s Comet orbits the Sun approximately once every 76 years, though this can vary slightly with each pass. Its orbit is elliptical, taking it far beyond Neptune and then back inside the orbit of Venus.
Like other comets, Halley’s Comet is made up of ice, dust, and rocky material. As it approaches the Sun, the heat causes the icy nucleus to vaporize and release dust, creating its glowing coma and characteristic tail.
Halley’s Comet is significant not only because of its brightness and visibility from Earth but also because its periodic returns have allowed astronomers to study a single comet over multiple orbits.
The comet’s appearances have been recorded by various cultures throughout history. For instance, it’s believed to have been depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, which describes the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
In 1986, several spacecraft (most notably the European Space Agency’s Giotto) conducted flybys of Halley’s Comet, providing the first close-up images of its nucleus and delivering valuable data about its composition and structure.
Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.