October is the month of meteor showers. In the tenth month of the year, on an average, one meteor shower peaks every four days. October 2020 is an exciting month for sky gazers. In its first half, Mars made its closest approach to the Earth – a grand show of the Red Planet in several years to come. And then at the end of this month, there’s a Halloween surprise. Uranus will make its closest approach to the Earth on the night of the Blue Moon. But before that, the Earth will smash through the trash from 1986’s Halley’s comet, creating fireballs – the Orionid meteor shower. Here is everything you need to know about it.
What Is A Meteor Shower?
A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors appear in the sky. Meteor showers take place when Earth comes in the path of the stream of debris from a comet. Each time a comet swings by the Sun in its orbit, some of its ice vaporizes and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream, also known as a “dust trail” (as opposed to a comet’s “gas tail” caused by the very small particles that are quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).
This dust trail follows the orbit of the parent comet. When Earth passes through the orbit of this dust trail, these particles interact with the atmosphere and what we see is a spectacular show of meteors: a meteor shower.
What Is Orionids?
The Orionid meteor shower is an annual shower that peaks in October. The parent body associated with the Orionids is the comet 1P/Halley or Halley’s comet. It’s a short period comet visible from Earth every 75-76 years. It’s the only naked-eye comet that can appear twice in a human lifetime. The comet produces two meteor showers in a year: Eta Aquarids in May and Orionids in October.
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Every meteor shower has a point called radiant associated with it. This is the point from where all the streaks appear to originate. Although the streaks can appear anywhere in the sky, it is best to look for them near the radiant. The radiant of the Orionid meteor shower lies in the constellation of Orion, hence the name Orionid meteor shower.
How to watch the Orionid meteor shower?
The Orionid meteor shower is a prominent meteor shower. Although it is not as good as the Geminids of December and the Perseids of August, it is the best meteor shower of October. This year, the shower will be active from October 2 to November 7, reaching its peak activity on October 21. For sky gazers in the North, Orion (a winter constellation) is still not well up in the sky until after midnight. The best time to watch the streaks will be around 04:00 – 05:00 in the morning when the radiant is at its highest in the sky. The peak will be, however, at around midnight.
At its peak, the shower is expected to produce a nominal rate of around 15 meteors per hour. The Moon, in Ophiuchus, will be around the first quarter phase at the shower’s peak, presenting minimal interference. When the moon is above the horizon, it emits natural light pollution that can reduce the overall number of shooting stars that are visible to the naked eye.
There are a few rules to watch the Orionids:
- There is no need for any telescope or binoculars to watch the Orionid meteor shower. Just find an open space in the dark.
- Make sure there is no artificial light pollution near your viewing spot.
- Give your eyes enough time to adapt to the darkness. It usually takes 20-30 minutes.
- If possible, relax on a lawn chair to enjoy the show of the heavens above.
- Good things always come to those who wait. So be patient while watching the shower. It takes time to spot them! Good luck.