Orionid Meteor Shower
Have you been enjoying the sight of falling stars recently? If so, get ready because the show is about to get a lot better. That is because we are approaching the peak viewing period for the Orionid meteor shower. Last year there was too much moon shine, but a new moon this year during the peak viewing period is expected to make the show much better. Now let’s hope for clear skies.
The Orionid meteor shower occurs every fall as the earth passes through the debris field of Halley’s comet. The earth entered the debris field around October 2 and will continue through it until November 7. Meteors should be visible from October 16-27, and experts say that if we have clear skies the viewing should be quite good from the 18th to the 23rd with the peak coming on October 21. However, the Orionids are known for their unpredictability and occasionally having several peak periods, so it might be worth keeping your eyes on the night sky for the next week or so. On rare occasions the Orionids even produce large fireballs that may even be visible during daylight hours.
Comets are mixtures of ice, rock, and dust. Think of them as dirty snowballs a few miles in diameter. When comets pass near the sun, the heat causes the comet to shed ice and particles. These mostly sand-sized pieces of ice and rock create a “debris field” in outer space. When the earth passes through these debris fields, the pieces collide with the atmosphere and become glowing hot. Viewed from earth, they are “falling stars.”
The Orionids get their name because the meteors are seen radiating out of the constellation Orion. Orion should be rise in the eastern sky by about 10:00 central time. It will travel westward across the sky, of course, as the evening progresses. Next May we will again travel through the debris field of Halley’s Comet, but that shower is called the Aquarids.
The Orionids have produced an increased number of meteors the past few years, so some astronomers are predicting that we may be able to see between 20-30 meteors per hour during the peak period if skies are clear. Get out and enjoy the Orionids. They are one of the best celestial shows of the year.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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