Skywatchers have something to look forward to next week as one of the strongest meteor showers of fall is set to reach its peak on Tuesday night. The annual Orionid meteor shower will peak Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday morning. Those who stay up to watch the meteor shower can expect around 20 meteors per hour around most of the globe.
A meteor every few minutes is expected at the peak of the shower. The American Meteor Society considers the Orionids to be a medium strength shower that can reach high-strength activity. Under two dozen meteors per hour are expected, but there’s always the chance that the shower could outperform expectations. NASA has said that there is evidence that a larger than usual peak could occur sometime between 2020 and 2022.
A higher than usual peak occurred between 2006 and 2009 were observers counted 50 to 75 meteors per hour. However, meteor showers are notoriously difficult to predict. Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a field of debris left behind by a comet or asteroid. Most debris is very small, approximately the size of a grain of sand, but the debris burns intensely as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Orionid shower is leftover debris from one of the most famous comets, Halley’s Comet. The comet has left two meteor showers that we can enjoy each year, including the Orionids and the Eta Aquarids that happen in early May. Halley’s Comet only passes through the inner solar system once every 75 years.
The Orionid shower gets its name from the constellation Orion because the stars appear to radiate from a point in the sky right next to the constellation. The best time to view the meteor shower will be after midnight as the radiant point climbs higher into the sky, leading up to dawn. The best view will be from the Southwestern and South-central portions of the US.