The Orionids appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year, the peak will occur tonight and into tomorrow morning and around a dozen meteors are expected per hour.
Shortly after twilight ends, you will see the occasional Orionid meteor streaking across the sky. However, the prime viewing hours are after midnight until the first light of dawn on Thursday, when Earth encounters the densest part of Halley’s debris stream. These fast-moving meteors can appear anywhere and everywhere in the sky, however, they appear to radiate from a point in the northern part of Orion, near Orion’s club. However, since we generally only see meteors in the last second or two as they streak into Earth’s upper atmosphere, it is often best to simply watch wherever the sky is darkest, which is usually straight up.
The display will be framed by some of the prettiest stars in the night sky. In addition to Orionids, you’ll see the Dog Star Sirius, bright constellations alongside Orion such as Gemini and Taurus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus. Even if the shower is a dud, the rest of the sky is dynamite.
The beauty of watching a meteor shower is that you don’t need any equipment other than your eyes. You should find a dark spot with a wide-open view overhead and, in order to watch the sky in comfort, a reclining chair or a blanket that you can lay on the ground is ideal. It is also essential to wrap up warm.
Any light pollution will cut down the number of meteors visible, so the best views are on the outskirts of towns and cities and away from artificial light. If you need to find your way around or look at a star map, then you should use a red flashlight to preserve your night vision. Remember, that you should allow 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.
If you’re clouded out or in an area of heavy light pollution, a live stream of the night sky from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. will be available via Ustream beginning tonight at 10 pm EDT (3am BST).
The spectacle provides an exciting opportunity for astrophotographers, so don’t forget to send your images of any meteors you manage to capture to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured in the print edition of All About Space magazine!