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Guide to the Orionids Meteor Shower

By Edited Oct 19, 2016 1 2
Orionid at Death Valley
Credit: Brocken Inaglory/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Halley's Comet Autumn Showing Can Be Spectacular

Every year the Orionids Meteor Shower makes its appearance in October during the second half of the month. This cosmic illumination, which stems from Halley's Comet, usually peaks each year around the days of Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 (give or take a day).

While some years may have celestial conditions that dampen viewing for any meteor shower, from media reports, 2014 was considered to be a good year for viewing Orionids due to the moon's positioning as it reached its New Moon phase. However, other years, such as in 2016, experts warned the waning gibbous moon would make the meteor shower more difficult to see for some stargazers.

About Orionids

Meteor showers are typically named for the constellations  they streak from; the Orionids are named for Orion. Orionids is one of two annual meteor showers that originate from Halley's Comet. The other, Eta Aquarids, appears each May. The shower occurs as Halley's Comet sheds its debris as it makes its journey around the solar system. According to Discovery, and this meteor will give off the image of "shooting stars" streaking across the dark skies. [1]

The showing of Orionids isn't the most prominent when compared with other regular meteor showers that routinely occur each year, however, stargazers with clear viewing can still expect to see a spectacular show on a year with optimal conditions. It is possible during Orionids' arrival to see up to 50 to 120 (or more - depending on the source) meteors per hour shooting out on a good year.

The discovery of Orionid is often credited to E. C. Herrick, from Connecticut in the United States, as in 1839 he noticed the nighttime activity. Reportedly, A. S. Herschel made the first precise observation of the October celestial fireworks. Since that time other astronomers have worked to learn more about this meteor shower, learning more accuracy about its appearance.

Orion belt
Credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/orion-orion--belt-stars-night-sky-315830/

Orion belt

When to View

Stargazers who want to catch the full effect of Orionids should be prepared for an early wake up (or a late bedtime for night owls). The best time to see this meteor shower is around midnight (which may vary slightly depending on the year, so give or take an hour) to the dawn hours. At some point during this time frame, Orion should be directly overhead, making for a good view.

Keep in mind, visibility may also depend upon where you live. If you live in a populated area, you may want to head out of the city away from the lights where the skies are darker and you can obtain a clearer view. Years where weather conditions are cloudy or rainy will diminish ability to see this or other meteor showers, so check your forecast before staying up late or getting up early.

How to View Meteor Showers

When watching for meteors, for comfort consider a lawn chair, blanket, warm clothing and a thermos filled with your favorite warm beverage. Many regions have a definite nip in the air at this time of year overnight. And bring along some patience. It always a good idea to keep in mind that meteors can be unpredictable, notes Earth Sky. [3]

Said to be a fast meteor show, viewers with optimal sky conditions can expect to potentially see some fantastic streaks of light generating from Orionids because, according to NASA, fast meteors have a higher propensity to explode. In these conditions, brilliant flashes of light can be created.

“Be prepared for speed,” Cooke said. “Meteoroids from Halley’s Comet strike Earth's atmosphere traveling 148,000 mph. Only the November Leonids are faster.” [4]

Have you ever viewed Orionids? If so, was it as spectacular as you'd thought it would be?

Related reading:

Get Ready for the Geminid Meteor Showers in December

April Means It's Time for the Lyrid Meteor Showers

Leonids Meteor Showers (November)



Mar 24, 2015 10:57am
I've been lucky enough to be out in California's desert to watch meteor showers a couple of times. Where I live in the city areas, unfortunately the star show is very pathetic. I have to go up into the mountains, out to Santa Catalina Island, or out to the desert to see the night sky well.
Mar 24, 2015 4:19pm
How cool to have seen them. Like you, where I live now is too close to the cities, I have to go a bit west to get to the dark open skies, but one of these days I'm going to do it.

I appreciate your comment TanoCalvenoa, thank you for reading.
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  1. "Orionids: Diving into Comet Halley's Tail." Discovery. 26/09/2014 <Web >
  2. "Observing the Orionids." Meteor Showers Online. 26/09/2014 <Web >
  3. "EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014." EarthSky. 26/09/2014 <Web >
  4. "The Orionid Meteor Shower ." NASA. 26/09/2014 <Web >
  5. "Orionid meteor shower to dazzle onlookers as it peaks late this week." Accuweather. 19/10/2016. 19/10/2016 <Web >

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