Orionid Meteor Shower Begins Tonight

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The Orionid meteor shower, which has been known to produce bright fireballs, can be seen in the sky beginning after midnight, on early October 21.

The Orionids are an annual meteor shower which last about a week in late-October. Sometimes meteors may occur at rates of 50-70 per hour, and the best way to spot them is to look up. Actually, one should lay on the ground with their legs pointing toward the southeast (from the vantage of the Northern Hemisphere), and give their eyes about a half hour to adjust to the darkness.

The shower, usually shortened to "Orionids," is the most prolific meteoric event associated with Halley's Comet. The Orionids get their name from the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, which lies in the constellation Orion, but they can be viewed over a large area of the sky.

Below is a clip of the remnants of a trail left by a fireball produced by the 2012 Orionid shower:

Halley's Comet returns to Earth's solar system every 76 years, shedding fragments of rocks and dust from its icy core. This cosmic detritus lights up the sky as it enters the earth's atmosphere, creating "shooting stars."

According to NASA, Orionids move fast, at roughly 148,000 miles per hour. With this speed, they can leave glowing "trains," like the one captured in the video above.

Anthony Cook, head of the telescope program at Griffith Observatory, says that one can expect to see about 20 meteors an hour, as the shower peaks in intensity later tonight and through tomorrow.

Still, electric lights and a bright full moon might obscure the show. "With city lights and the moonlight, you might be lucky to see two an hour," said Cook. "But if they are bright, it will be like free fireworks."

In related news, we all might experience the joy and wonder of viewing a fireball of a whole different order, if asteroid 2013 TV135 smashes into Earth when it returns in 2032. Though NASA has assured that the chances of this happening are slim and none.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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