The Orionid meteor shower peaks Saturday night, offering Western Hemisphere skywatchers a spectacular view of one of the most impressive astronomical events of the year.
The Orionids are set to peak around 11 p.m. EDT, so make sure to find a good spot outside by then.
The Orionids are essentially fragments of Halley’s Comet, relatively small chunks of ice, rocks, and minerals that were left behind when the comet last passed through the inner solar system in 1986. While Halley’s Comet is still largely intact, many bits and pieces were melted off by the sun on its last trip, forming the Orionids.
Bill Cooke, who studies meteors at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said the Orionid meteor shower is one of the most impressive views in the night sky.
"Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, the source of the Orionids," Cooke told Discovery. "Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour. Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best meteor showers of the year, with counts in some years up to 60 or more meteors per hour."
What is the best way to see the Orionids meteor shower?
For starters, it’s best to get as far away from any source of light pollution as possible. Unfortunately, this means many city dwellers won’t be getting the best view of the shower -- if they see anything at all. But people in either rural or suburban areas should have little trouble finding an appropriate spot to watch the Orionids.
Once you find a nice spot to see the show, all that’s left to do is get comfortable and watch the sky. The Orionid meteor shower gets its name from its apparent proximity to the constellation Orion, so if you’re at all familiar with the night sky, then it won’t be hard to know where to look.
And if you are living in a city, there’s still one way to watch the big event. NASA will feature a live Webcast of the shower’s peak, beginning at 11 p.m. EDT and continuing into early Sunday. NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams will host the show and answer questions throughout the event.