X Your Calendar For Sunday’s Orionid Meteor Shower

This map shows the sky facing south around 5 a.m. Sunday morning October 21, 2012. The Orionids will appear to radiate from the “shoulder” of Orion the Hunter not far from the brilliant planet Jupiter. Created with Stellarium

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.

Halley’s Comet swings near Earth every 76 years. This comic, created by an unknown author, captures the poignancy of the comet’s multiple appearances. Dust left by the comet arrives each year as the Orionid meteor shower.

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.

Path of the International Space Station shown on one of the new sky charts on Heavens Above. This map shows the track for Duluth, Minn. this evening Oct. 16 starting around 7:18 p.m. Credit: Heavens Above / Chris Peat

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

9 Responses

  1. I appreciate the comic. I was 10 when my great-grandfather and I watched Halley’s Comet. He described being a young boy and watching that same comet on its previous visit (as well as the Great January Comet of 1910). Heaven willing, I hope to do the same with my grandchildren in 2061.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jared,
      Thanks for your comment. A comet – what a nice thing to pass on and connect one generation to another.

  2. MBZ

    Back in ’86 I bundled up a group of our friends, equipped them with lawn chairs, star maps and little red flashlights and headed out into a hay pasture in rural Texas to see Halley. They were unimpressed, but we still had a great time. The next day there was buzz in town. Apparently a local had seen dark-garbed, hooded people in a circle surrounding by an eerie red glow. A “coven”!
    It was hilarious.
    Won’t be around for next time, I’m afraid 😉

    1. astrobob

      Hah! That’s just what a star party looks like. Never saw it quite that way before. A friend and I went to see it in Arequipa, Peru and had blast with the local people. Ended up hanging out with a Peruvian folk band, showing the locals the comet from the roof of our hotel, where all the northern constellations were upside-down in the northern sky. I even ate fried guinea pig though couldn’t quite figure out what it was at the time.

      1. MBZ

        Cuyos are far too cute to eat! Peru remains high on our list, especially Arequipa. It is such a special city. And I know what you mean… The sky above Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego was astonishing to me.

  3. Steve

    You give the direction to look for the Orionids, but no point of reference (i.e., from where are you looking?). Sorry I have to ask, but I know no other way to find out.

    1. astrobob

      South or southeast is probably best. To find south, face the sunset direction and stick out your left arm. That’s south. You can be anywhere to watch the shower, but the farther from city lights the better. Does this help?

  4. Stephanie

    Here is my comet comic comment. My 5 year old son is now very interested in comets so he wanted to see pictures of Halley’s Comet online. Google image search brought us to your web page. I was also 10 years old in 1986 when the first Halley’s comet appeared. It was a really fun time for me and my family. I remember thinking back then I will be 86 the next time it comes around and wondered if I would be alive to see it. At that time in my life, it meant nothing. 76 years was like saying “in a million years from now.” Looking at this bitter-sweet comic makes me feel both nostalgic and a little sad. The passage of time goes quicker than I imagined it would as a kid. I’m still relatively young, but I know that date is approaching like a runaway freight train.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Stephanie,
      Thanks for sharing your comet connection with us. I hope you get to see the next appearance in 2061 with your son (and grandkids?) and on and on into the future. That’s one nice thing about Halley. Timed right, it can connect a family across time.

Comments are closed.