A disappearing moon sets the scene for some of the best meteorites this week as the peak of the Orionid meteor shower approaches.
The Draconian meteor shower and a breathtaking show by Mars in the night sky served as the opening act for the Orionids, who are already active and visible. The waning crescent moon provides a mostly dark sky to better spot your falling stars over the next few nights.
The Orionids are really just bits of dust and debris left behind by the famous Comet Halley on its earlier journeys through the inner solar system. As our planet drifts through the cloud of cometary debris at this time of year each year, all of this cosmic gravel and debris seeps into our upper atmosphere and burns up in a display that we see on the ground as falling stars and even the occasional ball of fire.
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The Orionids are considered to be an important meteor shower based on the number of visible meteors that race towards inevitable doom during their active period, which lasts roughly from the first week of October to the first week of November.
The show is already active and the American Meteor Society predicts a handful of meteors per hour will be visible for the next few days, culminating on October 20th and 21st, when the number could climb to 20 per hour.
The Orionids can embody the old phrase “blink and you might miss it” if they enter our atmosphere at an extremely fast rate of about 66,000 km / s. Even so, quite a few of these meteors leave stubborn traces that last a few seconds. Some even fragment and disintegrate in more spectacular ways.
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To watch the show, the advice is the same as for any heavenly spectator event: find a place out of the light pollution with expansive views of the night sky. If necessary, focus, sit back, relax and adjust your eyes. You don’t have to focus on any part of the sky, but the Orionids are so named because their tracks seem to come from the same general area of the sky as the Orion constellation and that bright star Betelgeuse.
The absolute best time to look for the Orionids in 2020 is likely to be in the early hours before sunrise on October 21st. However, this shower is known to have a prolonged climax. So you should have a good chance of seeing some meteors if you get up early a few days before or after this peak date.
The moon will set before the morning’s peak hours, which is another benefit this year. Enjoy the show and as always, share with me any great meteor footage you might be taking on Twitter @EricCMack.
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