If you are looking for a spectacular show this weekend, look up to find the Orionid meteor shower shining bright through Saturday and Sunday night.
The shower is expected to peak at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, but visible meteors are expected to streak across the sky all weekend long at a rate of 10 to 20 per hour, according to EarthSky, and can be seen from all parts of the world during the night.
The best time to spot a meteor will be in the early hours of the morning, when the radiant, or the point where the meteors appear to originate from — in this case constellation Orion — is at its highest at around 2 a.m. in any time zone, but Dr. Ashley King, a planetary science researcher with the Natural History Museum in London, said that meteors will start appearing as soon as it gets dark.
This weekend, the moon will be in its first quarter phase and will set near midnight, according to the American Meteor Society. That means its luminosity will slightly interfere with meteor visibility, King said.
“You’ll want to wait for the moon to set,” he said. “Even if you’re in a city, you should be able to see a few meteors — it’s really just a case of looking at the sky and being patient.”
To have the best chance of spotting a meteor, King suggests going outside for at least 10 to 20 minutes before stargazing to let your eyes adjust to the low light. If possible, it is ideal to get away from light pollution and find a spot with a clear view of the dark sky, King said.
Dust grains from Comet Halley
The Orionid meteors come from one of the most famous comets, Halley, which is currently near the middle of its 76-year orbit around the sun. While the comet won’t make its appearance in Earth’s night sky until 2061, it leaves a trail of debris behind that our planet passes through every year, resulting in the Orionids.
In early May, Earth passes through a different section of Halley’s orbit trail, resulting in the meteor shower known as the Eta Aquariids.
“What you’re seeing are little comet dust grains that are traveling really quickly,” King said. “When they enter the atmosphere, they get heated up and vaporize, and you get that bright streak — and that’s what we call a meteor.”
The Orionids tend to be bright and fast-moving, 148,000 miles per hour (238,183 kilometers per hour), according to NASA. Because of this high speed, the Orionids often make long trails in the sky — visual evidence of the dust being released by the meteors as they are heated up, King said.
Occasionally, meteor showers can have an unexpected spike in their meteor rates. From 2006 to 2009, the Orionids saw anywhere between 50 to 75 meteors per hour, according to the American Meteor Society. Normal rates are expected this year, but there is always the possibility of a surprise, the organization notes on its website.
“Not only are they spectacular — it’s exciting to see the bright streaks across the sky, and it’s not something you see every day — but this is dust grain that formed just over 4.6 billion years ago,” King said. “This is dust from the birth of the solar system.”
After the Orionids peak, the hourly rate of visible meteors will begin to slow down until the shower ends on November 22. If you miss the peak this weekend, there are five other meteor showers left to catch this year:
● Southern Taurids: November 5-6
● Northern Taurids: November 11-12
● Leonids: November 17-18
● Geminids: December 13-14
● Ursids: December 21-22
There are three full moons remaining in 2023, according to the Farmers’ Almanac:
● October 28: Hunter’s moon
● November 27: Beaver moon
● December 26: Cold moon
Lunar and solar eclipses
On October 14, people across North, Central and South America were able to encounter an annular solar eclipse. During the event, the moon passed between the sun and Earth creating a “ring of fire” in the sky. It was the last solar eclipse event until 2024.
A partial lunar eclipse, however, will take place on October 28 and will be viewable in Europe, Asia, Australia, parts of North America and much of South Africa. This eclipse occurs when part of the moon passes into Earth’s shadow, allowing the shadow to be visible on the moon for a short period of time.