Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 21, here’s all you need to know about the show and how you can watch it

The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the Orionids originate from comet Halley, which takes around 76 years to make a complete revolution around the Sun.


                            Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 21, here’s all you need to know about the show and how you can watch it
(Getty Images)

The Orionids are considered to be one of the most beautiful showers of the year, and it is set to peak on the night of October 20 and into the morning of October 21. No special equipment such as a binocular or a telescope is required for viewing the Orionids. All you need is a clear sky and experts advise finding a secluded viewing spot, away from the city lights.

“Orionid meteors appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year, the peak will occur on the night of Wednesday, October 21 into the morning of Thursday, October 22,” says NASA. It adds, “Observing is easy: Wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up. No telescope is necessary to see Orionids shooting across the sky. Viewing conditions are favorable this year, as the light from the gibbous Moon should set by 2 am EDT time, permitting good viewing just before dawn when the rates will be at their highest.”

Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office predicts that the Orionids will probably show “weak activity” this year. “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere will probably give us about a dozen meteors per hour,” he adds.

The Orionid meteors appear every year between October 2 and November 7. The Orionids is the second meteor shower in October, and it usually peaks around October 21 or 22. The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the Orionids originate from comet Halley, which takes around 76 years to make a complete revolution around the Sun. The last time comet Halley was seen by casual observers was in 1986. Comet Halley will not enter the inner solar system again until 2061.

Orionids are named after Orion because the meteors appear to emerge or radiate from the same area in the sky as the constellation. "The Orionid meteor shower is the second meteor shower created by Comet Halley. The Eta Aquarids in May is the other meteor shower created by debris left by Comet Halley," say experts. 

The Orionids are viewable in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres during the hours after midnight. "The Orionids, which peak during mid-October each year, is considered to be one of the most beautiful showers of the year. Orionid meteors are known for their brightness and speed. These meteors are fast: they travel at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into the Earth's atmosphere," according to NASA.

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When comets come around the sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits. Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.

Draconid meteor shower

The Draconids owe their name to the constellation Draco the Dragon and are created when the Earth passes through the dust debris left by 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. The comet orbits the Sun once every 6.6 years or so. This year, the annual meteor shower will be active between October 6 and 10. Stargazers are thus crossing their fingers for a sky show in October as the Draconid returns to the night sky. 

The Draconids are sometimes known as the Giacobinids, named after Michel Giacobini who discovered the comet 21 P/Giacobini-Zinner, according to the Royal Museums Greenwich. While most other meteor showers are best seen in the early hours, the Draconids are best seen after nightfall. They can be best viewed with a good, clear view of the stars on a night with no clouds. In 2020, the Draconids are expected to peak on the night between October 7 and 8. 

According to scientists, the rate of meteors during the shower's peak depends upon which part of the comet's trail the Earth's orbit intersects on any given year. While the Draconids have not produced any particular outbursts in activity in recent years, some of the most active displays in the 20th century were seen in 1933 and 1946.

When comets come around the sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits. Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails (Getty Images)

"Even at northerly latitudes, the Draconids are typically a very modest shower, offering only a handful of slow-moving meteors per hour. However, the Draconid meteor shower produced awesome meteor displays in 1933 and 1946, with thousands of meteors per hour seen in those years. European observers saw over 600 meteors per hour in 2011," explains earthsky.org.

"Two years ago, in 2018, was also a favorable year because the new moon closely aligned with the peak date of the Draconids. But that’s not all. The Draconids’ parent comet – 21P/Giacobini-Zinner – reached perihelion, its closest point to the sun, in 2018, coming closer to Earth than it had in 72 years." It adds, "This shower favors the Northern Hemisphere, but Southern Hemisphere observers might catch some Draconids, too. No outburst is expected this year. But meteor showers are notorious for defying the most carefully crafted forecasts. So you never know for sure what’s up in a meteor shower unless you look."

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