Fall is the perfect season for stargazing – and the Orionid meteor shower returns this October – just in time to brighten a dim 2020.
Ready for one of nature’s most spectacular displays? The Orionid meteor shower occurs every October, and as autumn settles in, shooting stars are just around the corner. If you’ve never watched a meteor shower on a clear October night, it is like nothing else. And if – like most of us – you could use a little something spectacular to liven up a year of quarantine, pandemics, and politics – then October has just what the doctor ordered.
So what is this strangely-named extra-to-terrestrial event, anyway?
Orionid Meteor Shower – What is it?
The Orionid event is like no other. It happens as the Earth passes through the tail of Halley’s Comet. As we do, debris from the famous comet break through our atmosphere. Then – as a result – they become meteorites and leave brilliant trails through October skies.
The shower, however, doesn’t share Halley’s name. So what’s with “Orionid”? Orionid’s name originates with the Orion constellation: the point in the sky’s map of stars where the meteor shower always begins.
What makes this meteor display special?
While other meteor showers tend to be a bit more active, Orionid’s shooting stars are -as mentioned – unlike any other.
August’s Perseids meteor shower is known to produce an average of 60 shooting stars per hour. Though Orionid tends to produce less – averaging about 20 per hour – the October shower’s stars have a special trademark:
Orionid’s meteorites produce “tails” – just like Halley’s comet. Blasting through the atmosphere at 41 miles per second, each shooter has the potential to leave behind a trail in the night sky. Each trail – or tail – can last for several seconds, too. Some of the most spectacular, however, can last up to a full minute.
When can I watch Orionid?
Mark your calendars: the Orionid display typically peaks between October 20 – 24, 2020.
Orionid begins, though, at the very beginning of October. Look for the meteorites to start around October 2nd – and keep your eyes peeled all the way through the first week of November. That’s right – you’ll have a chance to see shooting stars the entire month.
This year, in 2020, NASA expects the peak to occur after midnight on October 21st. This doesn’t mean you need to wait three weeks into the month to view them – it simply means they’ll be the most active -and visible – at this time and date.
The best part? 2020’s moon cycle has her in the waxing crescent phase during this year’s peak. As a result, light from a full, bright moon won’t drown the meteors out of the sky. In fact, the moon will be setting in the evenings during that week, too. This makes for brilliantly dark skies – and perfect stargazing conditions.
Just before dawn will be the absolute best time to see the meteors. Any time between midnight and dawn will have visible shooting stars – but if you can stay up all night – you’re in for a treat.
HOW can I be sure to see it?
While the natural factors above will be improving chances to see shooting stars, it’s important to set yourself up for success.
Most importantly – you’ll want to get as far away from light pollution as you can. Light pollution is the combination of visible, reflected, and stagnant light from civilization at night. In short: find a remote and really dark place.
Next, sit out in the dark for at least 20-25 minutes to let your eyes adjust. You’ve got to do this without looking at your light-emitting phone, too.
Once you feel your eyes have adjusted, look up to the sky and try to find the Orion constellation (pictured above). For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Orion will be in the southeastern sky. Anyone watching from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere will find Orion in the northeastern sky.
If you can’t pinpoint Orion, however – don’t fret. Shooting stars will be visible across the entire night sky from midnight to dawn. As such, 2020’s Orionid meteor shower will make for one show you don’t want to miss.