Remnant particles from Halley's Comet are set to showcase a meteor shower display before dawn this weekend and on through to early next week.
The Orionid meteor shower arrives this month, October. The celestial spectacle is so named because the shower radiates from the region of the sky that is north of Orion's red-giant star, Betelgeuse. Annually, the Orionids appear at the tail-end of August's Perseid meteor shower. And this year, the Orionids are scheduled to reach their peak display before sunrise on Monday morning. Best viewing occurs during the pre-dawn hours-----of 4 a.m. on through to 6 a.m.-----when Orion is at its highest in the sky, which will be towards the south.
Under a clear, dark sky, this meteor shower on average produces 20 to 35 meteors per hour. But when they are in an enhanced display, they can appear at the rate of approximately 45-55 meteors per hour. The peak window is anticipated to occur from October 19th (tonight) on through to October 23rd. Because Orionids are typically dim meteors, it is advisable to observe them in a safe location with minimal light interference. Moreover, the moon, which turned full last night (the 18th) means that bright moonlight might interfere with the meteor shower's visibility.
Comets are dusty pieces that can trace their existence to the early formation of the solar system. As a comet nears the sun, the sun's heat starts to vaporize the comet, thus creating a visible tail. Debris (ranging in size from dusty sand grains to more sizable pebbles) left behind by these interplanetary travelers remain in outer space, and, when the Earth collides with these debris patches, meteor showers occur. And, in the case of Halley's Comet (which has circled our sun regularly for many hundreds of years), a "river of rubble" from its tail has been left behind in its orbit, allowing for periodicity in meteor showers, such as tonight's annual Orionids. When the comet's remnants collide with our atmosphere, the friction produces the effect widely known as 'shooting stars.'
So, bundle yourself up cozily for the predawn chill and take the time to gaze up at the heavens tonight and on through to the sunrise of October 23rd. A shooting star with your wish is sure to trailblaze against the sky.