An extraordinary exhibition of celestial fireworks can be observed between October 21-22 as the remnants left by Halley’s Comet illuminate the night sky – if the weather permits.
The Orionid meteor shower, which has been ongoing throughout the month, reaches its peak for several hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning, giving you the best opportunity to witness the spectacle yourself.
What can I expect to see?
The shower is expected to offer a dramatic light show and potentially produce up to 25 meteors per hour until the early hours of Sunday.
What is it?
The Orionid Meteor Shower that we will (hopefully) witness this weekend is a result of the Earth passing through the debris of Halley’s Comet.
Each time Halley returns to the inner solar system, it sheds ice and rocky dust into space. Eventually, these dust particles become the Orionids in October.
The phenomenon gets its name from the Orion constellation, which is one of the brightest star groups in the sky.
The meteoroids can travel at high speeds of 148,000mph through the Earth’s atmosphere and appear as large streaks of light.
The Earth and Halley’s Comet intersect each other twice every year due to their elliptical orbits around the sun. This creates the Orionids, as well as the Eta Aquariid meteor shower in May.
Since the comet only passes by Earth once every 75 to 76 years, this annual shower offers some compensation for those who may miss that rare event.
When is the peak of the meteor shower?
The shower has been happening throughout October, but it reaches its peak between midnight and dawn on both Sunday and Saturday, making it the optimal time to observe it.
In total, the peak is expected to last for about seven hours – from 11pm on Saturday night to 6am on Sunday morning.
Experts recommend positioning yourself to observe the shower (further advice can be found below) around 11pm on Saturday.
This will allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness before the best viewing time between 2am and dawn.
While this weekend presents the best opportunity to observe it, Dr. Minjae Kim, a research fellow at the Department of Physics, University of Warwick, assures stargazers that they will “easily” catch a glimpse of the Orionids for several days after.
The shower ends on November 7, so you may still catch a glimpse even if you miss it this weekend.
How can I observe it?
The good news is that you don’t need a high-powered telescope because the meteor shower is visible to the naked eye in all parts of the sky.
All you need, according to experts, is a bit of patience, a clear sky, and a safe spot away from street lights and other light pollution.
The bad news is that the sky is expected to be quite cloudy in the UK tomorrow night and Sunday morning.
You may also be hindered by the amount of natural light from the moon. If the moon is particularly prominent overnight, it may obstruct your view.