The Orionids

The Orionids meteor shower peaks on the night of Tuesday October 20-21. This is a modest shower, producing about 20 meteors (“shooting stars”) per hour if you are viewing away from city light pollution. Of course, the sky needs to be clear. And expect to see less than half that number if you are observing from a moderately dark backyard in the suburbs. The crescent moon sets at around 9:30 pm on this night and so won’t spoil the view this year.  

It takes at least 15 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark so you can see the fainter meteors (…there are many more fainter meteors than bright ones). Turn off all yard lights and find a place that is shielded from seeing your neighbour’s lights or streetlights. Even looking at your phone’s display can cause you to lose your dark adaption and you will need another 15+ minutes in the dark to restore it. 

You will need to wait till about 10:30 pm EDT before any of these meteors will become visible. That is when the “radiant” for this shower rises above the Eastern horizon. If the sky is clear and you do indeed start your viewing right at 10:30 (till ~11:00 pm), you have a chance to catch an impressive “earth-skimmer” meteor, one that remains visible for a longer time as it streaks across a much longer path across the sky. 

To watch the Orionids or any other meteor shower, I strongly recommend you find yourself a fully reclining full length deck chair (Chaise Lounge) so you can be off of the ground and comfortably looking straight overhead without having to bend your neck. That is where you want to be looking, straight overhead to see the most meteors. The meteors will seem to be coming from a particular point in the sky, the shower’s “radiant”: whichever constellation the radiant lies in is how a meteor shower gets its name. In this case, the radiant lies in the constellation of Orion. But each meteor can be almost anywhere in the sky when it first lights up; and then it usually travels less than a quarter of the distance from horizon to horizon before it stops glowing.  

For those interested in knowing what an Orionid meteor is made of, you might be surprised to learn they are pieces of Comet Halley, which last passed by the Earth in 1986. Comets leave behind a trail of rock dust that fills the path they take as they orbit the Sun. Earth passes through that thin debris trail twice each year, producing the Orionid meteor shower in the Fall and the Eta Aquarids meteor shower in early May. 

-DDO Defenders 😄