Orionid Meteor Shower Will Peak Overnight, With Best Show Before Dawn

Oct 20, 2017

The Orionid Meteor Shower will reach its peak on Friday night and Saturday morning, with the best viewing shortly before dawn (wherever you are).

Last year, the annual show was less than spectacular — a bright gibbous moon hung in the sky for most of the night, stealing the glory from the meteors.

But this year, there's barely a sliver of moon in sight — the new moon was just on Thursday. And much of America can expect a nearly cloudless sky, to boot.

NASA says that viewers can expect to see up to 20 meteors an hour during the peak of the shower. If you miss it tonight, you can try again in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and a few stray meteors might still be spotted as late as Nov. 7.

Here's some advice on how to watch, from NASA:

"As with observing any meteor shower, get to a dark spot, get comfortable, bring blankets to stay warm, and let your eyes adjust to the dark sky. A cozy lounge chair makes for a great seat, as does simply lying on your back on a blanket, eyes scanning the whole sky.

"The Orionids are so named as they seem to originate, or radiate, from near the famous constellation Orion. However, they will appear to streak across the entire sky."

This meteor shower is caused by debris left behind by Halley's Comet, as Earthsky explains:

"The comet last visited Earth in 1986 and will return next in 2061.

"As Comet Halley moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth's atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, every year. The comet is nowhere near, but, around this time every year, Earth is intersecting the comet's orbit."

The Orionid meteor shower is not the most prolific of the annual meteor showers (the more-prolific Perseids are more famous for a reason, and the Leonids have provided some of the most stunning shows in history).

But the fast-moving meteors in the Orionid shower can produce occasional bright fireballs, and can leave "persistent trains" lingering briefly in the sky, Earthsky writes.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.