by William J. Bechaver
This week we will be presented with a most impressive showing of the annual Orionid Meteor Shower. The shower peaks late in the night of Tues. Oct. 20 through the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 21.
A meteor shower usually results when earth passes through the orbit of a comet. The comet has left particles of ice and rock in its wake, and as the earth passes through those particles, they strike the upper atmosphere with spectacular results. As the particles ignite and vaporize in the atmosphere, they leave flashes and glowing trails, which we call meteors or shooting-stars.
Peaks of meteor showers seem to fluctuate from year to year, and the Orionids appear to have a 12-year cycle. This year promises to be the peak year in the cycle. In addition, the moon, just two days past new phase, will be respectfully out of the skies for the entire duration of the peak hours, so there will be no moonlight to distract nor defuse the grandeur of this year’s display.
The particles that create the Orionids are actually remnants left from the passage of Halley’s Comet, which last passed through in 1986. Based on the meteors’ cycle of peak activity, scientists predict that we may be able to see approximately 30 meteors per hour, when viewed under ideal conditions. With the absence of the moon and our local dark skies, if it is clear, we should be treated to a special event, averaging one bright meteor every two minutes. The only thing that could stand in the way is the weather. But, if there are clouds that night, the entire shower runs from about Oct. 17 through Oct. 25, so there will be a chance to glimpse the shower on another night.
So, bundle up and go out just around midnight next Tuesday night, and look toward the radiant – the point in the sky where the meteors seem to originate – which lies in the southeast, near the constellation Orion. Find the darkest spot where there is little artificial light to interfere and enjoy the most majestic show of nature’s wonder.