Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When to Watch the Orionid Meteor Shower Tonight

Orionid meteor
An Orionid meteor recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station on top of Mt. Lemmon, Arizona on Oct. 13, 2015 at 4:31 a.m. EDT. Credit: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida --   The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks overnight tonight during the early mornings of Wednesday, October 21, and Thursday, October 22, 2015.   While the meteor count may be lower this year, Autumn's best meteor shower still promises to be spectacular thanks to dark skies from the Moon setting several hours before the best viewing time.

"The Orionids will probably show weaker activity than usual this year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere will probably give us about a dozen meteors per hour."

When is the best time to watch Orionid meteor shower?

The best time to look for Orionid meteors is just before sunrise on Thursday, October 22, when Earth encounters the densest part of Halley's debris stream.

What are the best dates to watch the Orionid meteor shower in October 2015?

Dark night skies are best for watching meteors, so the Moon plays an important role as to which dates are best for meteor shower viewing.  The Moon will set before 4 a.m. of every morning from October 21 through October 23.  So the darkest predawn mornings closest to the meteor shower's peak are October 21-23, 2015.

How to watch the Orionid meteor shower:

Observing is simple: set the alarm a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up in the direction of the constellation Orion. No telescope is necessary to see Orionids shooting across the sky.  It is important to be far away from artificial lights.  Your eyes can take up to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to dark-adapt.

Where to look for the Orionid meteor shower tonight:

Orion Constellation
Orion Constellation. Image Credit: NASA

Find Orion's noticeable three-star belt in the night sky, then follow his raised arm to his elbow to see the origination point of the Orionids (see image above).  Orion will be almost straight above the viewer's head 1 to 2 hours before sunrise.

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 winter constellations such as Orion, Gemini, and Taurus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus. Even if the shower is a dud, the rest of the sky is dynamite.

The Orionid Meteor Shower is named after the constellation Orion because the meteors appear to come from just north of Orion's bright star Betelgeuse.  It is made up of debris left by Halley's Comet with a debris field that is so wide that encompasses the entire distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Watch the Orionid meteor shower live online

If you have cloud cover in your local area, you can still watch the meteor shower live online. A live stream of the night sky from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will be available via Ustream beginning October 21, at 10 p.m. EDT. The live feed is an alternative for stargazers experiencing bad weather or light-polluted night skies. If the weather in Huntsville is clear, Orionids may be seen in the feed as early as 11:30 p.m. EDT, though the hours before dawn should show the most Orionid activity.