The Orionids, a minor but always reliable meteor shower, peaks this coming weekend. Under a dark sky you can up to 15 meteors an hour and sometimes more. Because Orion doesn’t really crest the horizon until midnight, the best viewing times begin a couple hours before dawn. This year, when the constellation culminates in the southern sky. That happens around 5 a.m. local time or about an hour before the start of morning twilight.
You may have already heard that the waxing gibbous moon will brighten the sky and pose a problem for the Orionids. Moonlight and meteors never mix well, since a bright moon washes out the fainter ones, and there are always more faint flashes than bright ones.
But there’s a way around this. From many locations the moon sets between a hour-and-a-half to an hour before morning twilight begins. That’s also the time when Orion’s highest and meteors numbers peak. So … with a little planning there’s just enough time – and hour give or take – to sample the shower in a dark sky at the best possible time without lunar influence.
You can go out either early Sunday morning Oct. 21 or Monday the 22nd. Click here to find the moonset time for your location, then plan to be up and out a little before that. Orionids are swift, traveling at 148,000 mph (66 km/sec), and appear to radiate from the upraised club of Orion above the star Betelgeuse. You can look anywhere in the sky, so the direction you face doesn’t particularly matter, but I’m fond of south-southeast. For aesthetic reasons I like to keep the radiant constellation in view. And the Orionids have the best constellation of any shower hands down!
A reclining chair is the perfect piece of equipment for watching the shower along with a blanket you can snuggle under to stay warm. Now for the best part: Orionids aren’t just crumbs from any old comet. They’re fragments of the most famous one of all — Halley’s! Some of you remember Halley from 1986. If you missed it you’ll have another chance when it returns in the summer of 2061. In the meantime, you can watch pieces left by the comet in its orbit disintegrate as zippy meteors as they slam into our atmosphere this weekend.