Orionids 2011: How To See The Meteor Shower This Weekend

The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks on Saturday morning, so get ready to stay up late (or get up very early) and look to the sky to catch some of the action.

The Orionids occur each October as the Earth passes through a trail of dust left by Halley's comet. When one of those dust particles — about the size of a grain of sand — enters Earth's atmosphere, it excites the air molecules through which it passes, causing them to give off light. Photo: Adcuz/Flickr

On Saturday morning, a facinating show is expected: the annual Orionid meteor shower is on its way. So, all you need is to get up at midnight, go outdoors and observe such an ordinary but still an interesting performance. Experts recommend observing the skies from a wide open space away from street lights.

According to Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Earth comes close to the orbit of Halley’s comet twice a year, once in May and again in October.

Although the comet itself is rarely nearby – it’s beyond the orbit of Saturn now – Halley’s dusty debris constantly moves through the inner solar system and causes the two regular meteor showers.”

“The Orionids occur as the Earth passes through a trail of dust left by Halley’s comet. When one of those dust particles — about the size of a grain of sand — enters Earth’s atmosphere, it excites the air molecules through which it passes, causing them to give off light” says Deborah Netburn.

Bill Cooke, a member of the Space Environments team at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) described the Orionids as “shooting stars” because of the grains of sand which strike Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate it.

The annual meteor shower was named the Orionids because of being emanated from the constellation Orion. The October Orionids are the sisters of the eta Aquarids – southern hemisphere meteor shower which can be observed in May.

This year is not the best one for sky watchers. The Perseids in August were washed out by a full moon, and the Draconids in October were impossible to being seen as well. Unfortunately, in the U.S they peaked during daylight hours.

The list of failures will be enlarged with the impossibility to see the peak of the Leonids because of the moon’s interference in November. Nevertheless, astronomers predict only the partially full moon this weekend.

It was also mentioned that clouds can prevent sky watchers from seeing the meteor shower in the pre-dawn hours Friday but they will dissipate by the pre-dawn hours Saturday.

Dan Malerbo, an expert, noticed that we will lucky to look to the meteors to the east at 1:30 a.m. before the rise of the moon.

There are some instructions from NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office on finding the Orionids: “It lies near the left shoulder of Orion the Hunter, roughly centered within an eye-catching triangle consisting of Sirius – the brightest star in the sky – and the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn.

These stars and planets are in the southeastern sky before dawn, as viewed from mid-northern latitudes. Don’t stare directly at the radiant, say experienced meteor watchers. Orionids that appear there will seem short and stubby – a result of foreshortening. Instead, look toward any dark region of the sky about 90 degrees away.

You’ll see just as many Orionids, but they will seem longer and more dramatic. The tails of all Orionid meteors, no matter where they appear, will point back toward the radiant in Orion”.

You can also locate the constellation having downloaded Google’s Sky Map app. At the equator almost 10 to 15 meteors per hour will be seen. The meteor will be seen in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

So, let’s hope the clouds at night won’t stop us from catching some great moments of the action. [via NASA and The Huff Post]

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