October is the month of meteor showers. In this month of fall, on average, one meteor shower peaks every four days. So October 2021 is an exciting month for sky gazers. October 2021 began with Andromeda reaching its highest point in the night sky (culmination). Then we had the peaks of the Camelopardalid shower, the Draconids, Southern Taurids, and the δ-Aurigid meteor shower. Now, 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?

Meteor shower NASA

A meteor shower is a celestial event in which several 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 are 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 tiny 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 are 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. It is the point from where all the streaks appear to originate. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, it is best to look for them near the radiant. For example, the radiant of the Orionids lies in the constellation of Orion, hence the name Orionid meteor shower.

Fall's Best Meteor Shower Is Soon Going To Peak And Here's How To Watch This Celestial Show. 1
Illustrations showing the radiant of the Orionids | Image: USA Today

How to see the Orionid meteor shower?

The Orionids are prominent. Although it is not as good as the Geminids of December and the Perseids of August, it is the best meteor shower of the fall. 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 see 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.

The shower is expected to produce a nominal rate of around 15 meteors per hour at its peak. The Moon, in Aries, will be only one day past the full phase at the shower’s peak, presenting significant interference throughout the night. When the Moon is above the horizon, it emits natural light pollution that can reduce the overall number of shooting stars visible to the naked eye.

Fall's Best Meteor Shower Is Soon Going To Peak And Here's How To Watch This Celestial Show. 2
Image: skarie/Adobe Stock

There are a few rules to watch the Orionids:

  • There is no need for any telescope or binoculars to see the Orionids. 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.

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