Crane your neck skyward this weekend and get a look at one of the best annual meteor showers. Unlike some other meteor showers, the Orionids peak for several nights. The 2017 edition reaches its peak on Sunday, October 22. At their most frequent, there should be about 20 to 25 meteors per hour.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation where they appear to originate. Thus, in the case of the Orionids, which are set to peak this weekend, that constellation is Orion. The Orionids are the remnants of Halley’s comet, and though that comet passes by the Earth just once every 76 years, the pieces of space rock and ice left behind by Halley pass us more frequently. This comet “stream” is composed of the leftovers the comet leaves along its entire orbit. That means that we can see these as meteors anytime we pass through any point of Halley’s orbit, even if the comet is far away.
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These meteoroids are subject to the gravity of planets, which makes it difficult to predict how many of them will pass by Earth any given year. Scientists believe that the Orionids are on a 12-year cycle, which last peaked in 2006, when the shower was as strong as the Perseids . Since 2010, the yearly showers have been fairly weak, so astronomers hope that this year they’ll start picking back up.
To get the best view, you want to keep the constellation Orion on the edge of your vision which will give you the best chance of seeing long trails on the meteors. The best time to start looking is after midnight, when Orion has risen substantially. To find Orion, look for Sirius, the sky’s brightest star. Orion is right above it, and the Orionids radiant point is just to the left. This shower can been seen from anywhere on Earth except Antarctica. Sorry, penguins.