Don’t stay up too late this coming Saturday night. You’ll need your sleep before rising for the annual Orionid meteor shower which peaks early Sunday morning October 21. As many as 25 meteors per hour will be visible from a dark sky. This shower guarantees at least a minor show compared to the more fickle Draconids earlier this month. As long as the moon’s out of the sky and you live along the suburban fringe of a city or out in the country, you’ll see meteors. This weekend the moon sets long before the shower peaks, tempting even the hard-bitten I-hate-getting-up-before-sunrise-crowd to step outside for a look.
Each streak of light you see signals the incineration of a flake of Halley’s Comet, the parent comet of the Orionids. Every year in late October, Earth cuts across Halley’s orbit and bits of dust shed by the comet from previous passes near the sun burn up as they strike the upper atmosphere at speeds of 148,000 mph. Few showers offer up faster meteors. I can attest to the Orionids’ high speed. Every one I’ve ever seen sure appeared to be in a big hurry; most tear across the sky in second or less.
You can start watching for Orionids a couple hours before morning twilight begins or from 4 a.m. Sunday onward. Face south and get cozy under a big blanket or in a sleeping bag to stay warm. The shower lasts a few days, so if the weather’s looks bad, try the mornings before and after.
For evening sky watchers, the International Space Station continues its series of passes during convenient viewing hours this week. Watch for a brilliant yellow “star” traveling from west to east across the northern sky. The times listed below are for the Duluth, Minn. region. To get specific times and maps for your town, log on to Heavens Above. Chris Peat at Heavens Above just unveiled brand new sky maps that will make finding the station and anticipating its track even easier. A single click on any part of a new chart lets you zoom in. Click again to zoom out. I’ve included an example above.
You can also go to Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys link and type in your zip code for flyover times (no maps).
Tuesday Oct. 16 starting at 7:19 p.m. High and bright pass in the northern sky
Wednesday Oct. 17 at 8:06 p.m. Another northern sky pass but the station fades away into Earth’s shadow below the North Star.
Thursday Oct. 18 at 7:17 p.m. across the north
Friday Oct. 19 at 8:05 p.m. in the north. Fades away again beneath the North Star
Saturday Oct. 20 at 7:15 p.m. Yet another northern sky pass
Sunday Oct. 21 at 8:03 p.m. in the north and fading beneath the North Star