The Orionids: Autumn’s Best Night-Sky Show

The Orionid meteor showers return tonight. One of the year’s best sky shows, the Orionids will dazzle viewers this weekend between tonight, Friday, October 20, and on Saturday and Sunday night.

Orionid meteor showers, 2016

These meteors – some of the fastest and brightest – are caused by small pieces of Halley’s Comet hitting the Earth’s atmosphere at 147,000 miles per hour.

This famous comet – observed by astronomers since ancient times – swings by Earth every 75 to 76 years. As the icy comet streaks around the sun, it leaves behind a trail of particles. The Orionids are named after the direction from which they appear to originate, which is near the constellation Orion (The Hunter). In October, Orion is best visible around 2 a.m.

Orionid meteors are visible from anywhere on Earth and can be seen anywhere across the sky.

When to see the show:

As with most nighttime sky-watching events, light pollution can dim the view of the meteor shower. Go outside at about 1:30 a.m. and let your eyes adjust to the dark for about 20 minutes. Lie back and use only your eyes to watch the sky. Binoculars and telescopes won’t improve the view, because they are designed to see more stationary objects in the sky.

About Halley’s Comet, from Space.com:

“Astronomers have recorded Halley’s Comet as far back as 240 B.C. but no one realized that the same comet was making multiple appearances. In 1705, then-University of Oxford professor and astronomer Edmund Halley published “Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae” (“A Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets”), which showed the first evidence that the comet is reoccurring. By studying the historical records of a comet that appeared in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682, Halley calculated that it was in fact the same comet, and predicted it would reappear in 1758. While Halley died before the comet’s return, it did appear on schedule and was named after him.

“The next perihelion (closet approach of Halley’s Comet to the sun) is expected around July 2061.”

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