You might not be enjoying the start of autumn because it means colder weather and dark mornings, but it also heralds the beginning of stargazing season.
October not only marks the arrival of the Harvest moon, but also one of the most impressive meteor showers in the calendar.
The Orionid meteor shower happens annually, during the tenth month of the year, and can see as many as 30 meteors an hour shooting across UK skies.
What is the Orionid meteor shower?
What you are seeing when you watch the Orionid meteor shower is the stream of debris left by Halley’s comet coming into contact with Earth’s atmosphere.
The Orionid shower is one of two meteor showers (the other is Eta Aquarids in May) that happens as a result of Halley’s comet disintegrating into clouds of ice and dust. Although the last Halley’s comet happened in 1986 (it is visible from earth every 75 years) the resulting debris is still travelling in orbit today.
And because the stream of debris is travelling so fast – usually at a speed of 66 kilometres a second – when it intersects with our planet it burns up briefly and quickly. Leaving an impressive trail of shooting stars behind.
The Orionid shower is named (as all meteor showers are) after the region of sky that they appear to come from – in this case, the Orion region.
What will I be able to see of the Orionid meteor shower?
As it is one of the biggest meteor showers in the astrological calendar, the Orionid meteor shower can turn up to 15 and 30 meteors per hour. With an expected average of about 20 an hour.
You won’t need a telescope or binoculars, as it can be seen with the naked eye.
But obviously the extent of what you can see will depend on local weather conditions and cloud cover – current forecasts for the UK on Saturday night predict it to be dry and clear (although with localised cloud cover in some areas).
When is the Orionid meteor shower?
The Orionid meteor shower is visible for the entire month of October every year.
But it peaks on the 20 and 21 October (Friday and Saturday) and especially on Saturday night into Sunday morning. This is because the moon will set before the meteor shower rises in the east.
If you don’t manage to catch it this weekend, then it will still be partially visible until the 7 November.
What time is the Orionid meteor shower?
The best time to watch the shower will be after 9.30pm on Saturday night.
If you are able to stay up between midnight and 3am you are guaranteed the best chance of seeing meteors with great frequency as meteor showers normally peak just before dawn.
Where can I watch the Orionid meteor shower?
The most important thing to consider about your location for watching the Orionid shower is how close you are to light pollution.
Especially if you are in a city or a highly residential area where streetlights are going to make it tricker to see the sky clearly. So try and get as far away from built-up areas as possible, go to a public park.
For example, if you are in London the best place will probably be clear areas such as Richmond Park or Hampstead Heath.
In general, if you are able to travel further afield, try heading northwards.
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