How to see the Orionid meteor shower in 2019

The Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak in October as the Earth passes through a stream of dust particles that were shed by Halley’s Comet. Here is what you can expect to see.

 An Orionid meteor crosses the constellation of Orion itself, during the 2014 display of this annual meteor shower. Image credit: Pete Lawrence.

In 2019, maximum activity coincides with a waning Moon, just past last quarter phase. This means that conditions will be reasonable and the meteors will not be drowned out by too much moonlight. In fact there won’t be any moonlight at all if you observe before the Moon rises in the early hours!

Meteors will become more numerous in the approach to the shower’s peak, or maximum, which occurs from October 21 to 23.

The predicted number of meteors observable under ideal conditions, known as the Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR), is 20 to 25. In practice, you will see less than this, as conditions are rarely ideal. In some years (2006 – 2010), the Orionids have sprung a surprise by producing rates two or three times higher than usual.

If the Moon is in the sky, your best chance of seeing meteors is to turn your back on it and observe the sky in the other direction.

Orionid meteors appear swift against the starry background, and are always beautiful to see as nature’s own fireworks. We have a special article to tell you more about the Orionid meteor shower.

 An Orionid meteor flies through Orion in this image taken on 23 October, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Paul Sutherland

How to observe the Orionids

You don’t need any special equipment other than your eyes to see the Orionid meteor shower! The important thing to bring to the party is patience.

Also, make sure you are comfortable. October nights can be chilly, so wrap up warm, including good shoes and a hat if possible to keep yourself warm.

You will also need a deckchair or sun-lounger so that you can sit back and relax while you stare at the night sky. Get away from the glare of street lights and security lights. Most meteors will get lost in light pollution.

 The radiant, or direction from which the Orionid meteors appear to come, around the date of maximum. They will appear in any part of the sky however. Image credit: Skymania.com

Usually, it is recommended that you look in a direction about 60° away from the meteor shower’s radiant, which is the point from which they would appear to diverge. But, as noted above, when there is a bright Moon, it is better to watch the opposite part of the sky.

When you see a meteor, trace its path back and you will see if it points towards this radiant.

Note that you won’t see any meteors until the radiant has risen above the horizon. From mid northern latitudes, this occurs late in the evening. As it then gets higher in the sky, the chances of seeing Orionid meteors will improve.

 A bright Orionid captured through thin cloud from Walmer, Kent, on the morning of October 22, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Paul Sutherland
 Another Orionid meteor flies through Orion in this image taken on 23 October, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Paul Sutherland
 Another Orionid meteor flies through Orion in this image taken on 23 October, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Paul Sutherland

You may see meteors that do not come from the Orionid radiant. Another meteor shower is currently active, called the Taurids. The rate for this shower is much less, but it is rich in bright fireballs and lasts for several weeks. You may also see what are termed “sporadics”. These are meteors which appear randomly throughout the year and are not attached to any known meteor streams.

We have a full guide that advises on how to observe a meteor shower. If you have a camera capable of taking time exposures, you could also try to get a photo of an Orionid. Again, we have a guide on how to photograph meteors.

Related: The night sky this month

Related: The Orionid meteor shower


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