Halley’s comet, which last appeared in 1986, is only visible from the earth every 75-76 years. But every year we get the chance to see bits and pieces of Halley’s comet streaking through the sky, beginning with the Eta Aquarids in May, and finally the Orionid meteor shower in October.
The Orionid meteor shower began approximately October 2nd and it is estimated that it will last until Nov. 7th, however, this weekend marks the peak of the meteor shower. You can catch the Orionids from Saturday night through early Sunday morning streaking across the sky at a rate of up to 25 meteors per hour! (2006 and 2009 were landmark years for the Orionid shower, as meteors reached rates of 40-70 meteors per hour…unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. But it will still be worth watching out for!)
If you are going to see the Orionids in action this weekend, it is recommended that you watch the shower (with a telescope) from a relatively rural area, as highly populated areas tend to have a considerable amount of light pollution which may obscure the otherwise faint meteors.
A composite photo of the 2011 Orionid meteor shower taken near Mount Shasta in California. Image credit: Brad Goldpaint/Goldpaint Photography
The Orionids are so named because they appear to originate from the Orion constellation, although they are really fragments of Halley’s Comet colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere. The friction of the meteors entering the atmosphere produces white heat, and so we see them as ‘shooting stars’ as they travel across the sky. If you get the opportunity, check it out tomorrow night- and don’t forget to make a wish!