When they soar through the solar system, comets leave a trail of debris, and as Earth orbits the Sun, these fragments of interstellar litter collide with it. Bits of material, some as small as grains of sand, fall into the atmosphere of the Earth and burn up, producing a light streak that looks like stars shooting at us. The meteor shower of the Orionids is not the brightest of the year, but its meteors are exceptionally swift and it is one of only a few meteor showers in the Northern and Southern hemispheres that are similarly enjoyable.
Until 2061, Halley’s Comet will not make another appearance in the skies of Earth, but until then, we can enjoy the annual meteor shower of Orionids made from dust from the wake of the comet. The sparkling show lasts between the beginning of October and November 7, and peaks between 1 a.m. Joe Rao reports on Space.com at dawn on Wednesday, October 21.
Some meteor showers are reliable showstoppers, including the Perseids in August, and the Geminids in December. But about half of the Orionid meteors, Deborah Byrd writes for EarthSky, leave behind persistent trails or bright streaks of light created by ionized gasses that hang around for a few seconds after the meteor is gone.
Nicholas St. Fleur records for the New York Times at the Orionids height, around 10 to 20 meteors shot by every hour. And it might give an especially good chance this year to spot every streak of light. The new moon was on the 17th of October as the dark side of the moon faces Earth, so on the morning of the 21st of October the moon will be a small, waxing crescent and set in the evening. Even fast, slight meteor trails should be noticeable without moonlight interfering.
In order to watch the film, NASA suggests, “Lay flat on your back with your feet facing southeast if you are in the Northern Hemisphere or northeast if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, and look up , taking in as much of the sky as possible.”