From Proxima B to the plethora of supermoons, this year has had a whirlwind of exciting outer space news. And now, this month, the Orionid meteor shower will light up the night sky, peaking next Thursday and Friday (Oct. 20-21), and continuing through early November. The best part is, you can see it from anywhere in the world.
According to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke, the Orionid meteors are special because they are pieces of Halley’s Comet, which shows up by Earth once every 75 to 76 years. “But every year, you can see pieces of Halley’s Comet during the Eta Aquarids [in May] and the Orionid meteor shower,” Cooke explained.
Every year, the Orionid meteor shower is unique due to its level of intensity. This year, we can expect about 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Other years have seen rates of 70 to 80 per hour and more. No matter the number, the event is absolutely worth observing, as Orionid meteors are among the fastest and brightest, with speeds of about 148,000 mph (238,000 km/h) as they jolt through the sky. “If you blink, you might miss them,” Cooke noted.
This year’s Orionid meteors commenced on Oct. 2, and will conclude on Nov. 7, but as noted, the best part of the show will occur between Oct. 20 and Oct. 21. The time of day to get a view is early morning, before dawn. Ensure you are in a dark area away from city lights to get the best chance of spotting the speedy meteors. Clear skies will ignite the beauty of the fairly faint meteors, so if conditions aren’t right, it may be a difficult show to view.
And because October’s full supermoon will rise a few days prior to the meteor shower’s peak, skywatchers can anticipate viewing about 15 meteors per hour due to the moonlight’s obstruction. The meteors will be visible from anywhere on Earth, and anywhere across the sky.
“A good thing about the Orionids is that they tend to either have a double peak or a flat maximum, which means that you can see good Orionid rates for two to three nights,” Cooke explained. “So if you miss it one night, you can go out the next night and see them.”
Orionid meteors seem to originate in the constellation Orion, so if you can pinpoint the shape of Orion the hunter, you can look for the meteor shower’s point of origin near Orion’s sword, slightly north of his left shoulder. Cooke notes not to stare straight at this spot, however, since the meteors here have “short trails and are harder to see — so you want to look away from Orion.”
And while you wait and watch, connect the very special view with why the event is happening in the first place: the Orionid meteor shower happens when Earth’s orbit around the sun crosses paths with debris from Halley’s Comet. The comet leaves behind fragments in its trail. These pieces enter Earth’s atmosphere and become meteors. The friction from air resistance provokes the meteors to heat up, resulting in what we often refer to as a shooting star.
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