The Orionids are one of the major shooting star displays each year. The name derives from the fact that meteor streaks appear to radiate from the just above the head of constellation Orion, the “Hunter” and not far (visually speaking) from its right shoulder marked by the bright red star, Betelgeuse.
So far this has not been an especially great year for meteor showers. Typically the most prominent display of shooting stars is the Perseids in August. While several prominent streaks and a couple fireball s were observed last August, the Perseids were largely obscured by the light of a full moon. What might have been a spectacular meteor shower earlier this month, the Draconids , was not to be since the peak occurred during daylight hours over North America.
During the Orionids peak tonight, a waning crescent moon will rise into the eastern sky about 2:20 AM (Saturday). The 25% or so illuminated portion if the Moon’s disk might interfere somewhat with the Orionids, but not come close to overpowering the potential for a great show – providing you can find a nearby viewing location removed from the majority of light pollution from cities, shopping centers, etc. (and, of course, clear skies).
On average watchers should expect to see between 15 and 20 yellow and green fast moving meteoroid streaks across the sky per hour. However, in the past few years Orionids have been especially strong and bright and accompanied by breathtaking fireballs that create persistent visible dust trails at high levels of the atmosphere. There is no way to know if this trend will continue through this year’s Orionids.
As great as in might be to “sleep in” on Saturday morning, rising early for this (or any other prominent meteor shower) is well worth the opportunity to see a natural wonder of the near space environment in which we all reside.
Please feel free to send in meteor sightings and your reactions to the experience. Submit photographs you take to our Night Sky gallery here.