The Orionid meteor shower will reach it’s peak tonight (October 21), and if you want to see it in all it’s glory, there may be a little work involved.
According to NASA, the ideal time to catch a glimpse of the meteor shower is a few hours before dawn, when the sky is the darkest (that would be around 4-5AM)! The show will be visible sans telescope but meteors could be missed with the blink of an eye due to their speed.
The meteors are tiny pieces of Comet 1P, AKA the infamous Halley’s Comet, which enters the inner solar system only once every 75-76 years. The comet has not been visible from Earth since 1986, but pieces of literal glowing space rock are visible every fall as we collide with a trail of shed debris when the Earth intersects with the comet’s orbit. This is what we call a meteor shower!
According to the American Meteor Society, “A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus as seen in the morning or evening sky.”
Though, there is no telling precisely when or how many Orionids meteors will be actually be fireballs- but, during the shower’s peak, the moon will illuminate the dark sky, blocking out all but the brightest meteors. For the best show, position yourself at an area with little to no light pollution.
As for catching a real glimpse of Halley? You’ll have to wait a few more decades. The comet last entered the inner solar system in early 1986, and will orbit closest to the sun again on July 28, 2061. So cancel whatever plans you have 45 years from now.
Will you be watching?
Main image courtesy of Jason Jenkins via Flickr.