Meteors build to a climax

The Earth is beginning to plough through a river of dust left in the wake of Halley’s Comet, sparking a meteor shower.

The shower is called the Orionids and this year is a particularly good opportunity to view them because moonlight will not be a problem. Best time to watch is after midnight from a dark location away from streetlamps and other lights.

The Orionids are so called because the “shooting stars” appear to come from the direction of the club wielded by Orion, the celestial Hunter. It is a point called the radiant, but the meteors themselves can appear in any part of the sky.

If you have a clear sky and sit patiently for long enough, you should already be able to spot a few Orionids. But rates will improve as we head towards maximum on Saturday, 21 October. In the early hours of that morning, experts are predicting a maximum rate of 20-25 to occur for an individual observer in ideal conditions.

That may not sound very impressive, but a bright meteor is one of the great spectacles of astronomy. Orionids have a reputation for being fast and bright. You can learn more about observing them by visiting the Society for Popular Astronomy’s meteor page for October.

Interestingly, the Orionids are one of two meteor showers left by Halley’s Comet. The other is the η Aquarids in late April and May.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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