Meteor showers are great fun! The Orionid meteor shower peaks this weekend. Here are some tips on how to see it best!
Orionids are bits and pieces of the well-know comet Halley. As the comet rounds the Sun every 76 years, it releases a stream of small dust particles in its path. The Earth ploughs through the stream every year around October 20-23. The Earth and particles collide at 67 km/s and the particles burn up high in the atmosphere, producing bright streaks of light – meteors. The dust particles (called meteoroids) travel on parallel paths, but due to the same geometric effect that makes it look like two railway tracks merge in the distance, all Orionids will seem to come from a single point in the sky. This point (the radiant) is in the constellation Orion, hence the name Orionids.
The location of Orionid radiant in the sky at 5 am local time at 50 °N latitude on October 21. All Orionids will appear to trace back to this point in the sky. Orion will appear lower in the sky for locations north of this latitude and higher in the sky for locations south of this latitude.
That is a meteor shower in a nutshell. The Orionids are a reliable annual meteor shower. At their peak, you will be treated to about 15 to 20 meteors per hour, if you watch from a dark spot. Urban light pollution will greatly diminish the number ob meteors, so get far away from urban lights. As it is weekend, you can try a higher mountain location. There is another catch with the Orionids: the constellation Orion does not rise until midnight, so there will be no Orionids in the sky in the evening! The best hours to watch are the final hours before dawn.
Observing and photographing Orionids
Observing meteors is easy. Dress warm, take a reclining chair, get out under a dark sky and gaze skywards. Sooner or later you will see a meteor. Make sure to bring enough clothes, as you *will* get cold.
Watching meteor showers is great fun, particularly if there are bright meteors! An it is even more fun trying to catch a meteor with a camera. It is easier than it might sound. You need: a camera with good image quality at medium to high ISO (>800-1600) – it does not matter whether it is a Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other brand, a reasonably fast and wide field lens (f/3.5 or faster). Put the camera on the tripod and aim it at the sky. It does not matter which part as meteors appear everywhere, you can go for a good composition with constellations and foregrounds. Set the exposure to at least 15 sec, or more, depending on how dark your sky is. Continue making successive photos throughout the night and GOOD LUCK!
Lucky – three meteors in a single photo! Two bright (nearly parallel) Orionid meteors streak through Ursa Major. The third, brightest meteor is a Taurid. Photo: Marko Korošec / Weather-photos.net.
There is more!
But there is more! In the final week of October and first half of November you may also see the Taurids. These meteors radiate from the nearby constellation Taurus, but they are much slower. The shower is not as strong as the Orionids, you can expect about 5, up to maybe 10 Taurids per hour. But the shower is well known for numerous bright meteors and fireballs, known also as ‘Halloween fireballs’ so it is well worth observing.
Bright Taurid meteor shoots through Orion. Photo: Marko Korošec.
When things go spectacularly right: a brilliant fireball (meteor), this one from the Taurid meteor shower. This meteor was brighter than the full Moon and lit up the sky and landscape. Photo: Jure Atanackov.
Good luck with your observations of the Orionid meteor shower! Let us know your impressions – find us on Facebook