Tonight's Orionid Meteor Shower Should Be a Beauty

By Eliza Strickland | October 20, 2009 5:34 pm

meteor-2Tonight, in the wee hours, dedicated star watchers and people just looking for a good celestial show will turn their faces up to the heavens to watch the annual Orionid meteor shower. The Orionids are so named because the meteors appear to radiate from near the constellation Orion, aka the Hunter. This easily spotted constellation “kind of looks like an hourglass with a very recognizable belt of stars,” said astronomer Mark Hammergren [National Geographic News].

The “shooting stars” are really tiny fragments of debris left behind in space by Halley’s Comet, which loops through the inner solar system every 76 years and leaves a trail of dust in its wake. Most fragments are tiny, only about the size of a grain of sand–but they still go out in a blaze of glory as they vaporize in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The best time to watch will be between 1 a.m. and dawn local time Wednesday morning, regardless of your location. That’s when the patch of Earth you are standing on is barreling headlong into space on Earth’s orbital track, and meteors get scooped up like bugs on a windshield []. Tonight’s star gazers will benefit from a dark, moonless sky.

NASA scientist Bill Cooke says the Orionids have been strong in recent years. “Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts of 60 or more meteors per hour” [].

Related Content:
80beats: For the World’s Best Stargazing, Head to Antarctica
80beats: Perseid Meteor Shower Should Dazzle Despite a Bright Moon
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Meteors

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: comets, meteors
  • Pute2009
  • Meteord
  • Trudy

    Right…the whole country is clouded in except southern Cal and Florida…Go figure!

  • terry /chessapee/an willie

    WE R WAITING THE SKY IS CLEAR ITS NOW 12:45 am oohh excited Cant Wait !

  • Gadfly

    I got totally screwed. I heard the shower was Wednesday so assumed Wednesday night — not pre-dawn. I saw one lone straggler this morning about 5:30 am local time while walking the dog. It did appear to shoot straight out of Orion. Kinda cool — for a split second.

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