This weekend offers a rare chance to see an October meteor shower

Many of you have heard of the Perseid meteor shower, seen above in Spain this August, but the lesser-known Orionid meteor shower should still be taken seriously and appreciated by both amateur and professional stargazers. –CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images

While driving home last night on Interstate 95, I saw a fireball streak across the sky. This could have been related to the Orionid meteor shower that is taking place right now, but which actually maxes out this weekend.

Many of you have heard of the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs during the warm summer month of August, but the lesser-known Orionid shower should still be taken seriously and appreciated by both amateur and professional stargazers.

This event takes place annually from October to early November, and as is the case with most meteor showers, there’s a peak period. That’s coming this weekend. Late October is when the meteor shower is best viewed, but we often have clouds and even stormy weather so I don’t necessarily talk about it. This year, in this amazingly clear weather pattern, we’re going to have a great chance to check out the meteor shower without any clouds.

The Orionid meteor shower peaks this weekend. —Astronomy.com
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There’s not as many meteors as there are in other events like this, but the meteors will radiate from an area of the sky with a lot of well-known stars and constellations. This includes the brightest star of all, Sirius also known as the dog star.

The best time to view this event will be between roughly 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. I realize a lot of you are thinking “I’m not getting up that early,’’ but maybe you’ll have a late night and be able to check it out on your way home.

Remember, meteors are tiny pieces of debris that burn up as they come into our atmosphere. Each meteor shower is associated with a particular comet, and this meteor shower is associated with the debris left behind by Halley’s Comet, which was last in our neighborhood in 1986 and will return in 2061.

Halley’s Comet is visible to the naked eye when it comes around every 76 years. —Max Planck Institute NASA

Interestingly, there are actually two meteor showers caused by the dust from Halley’s Comet. The other is the Eta Aquarids, which takes place in May. That is a smaller meteor shower.

What to expect

While we do have clear skies for this event, there won’t be hundreds of meteors streaking across the sky. You can expect to see one or two every five minutes or so. Temperatures will be in the 40s up to around 50 during the wee hours of the morning this weekend, so you’ll want to dress appropriately.

A fireball streaks across the night sky. —NASA
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I recommend laying on a blanket so that you don’t get a stiff neck, and just looking up towards the southeast. If you’re really fortunate you could see a fireball, one of a meteor shower’s most spectacular events. These can last for several seconds or even a couple of minutes in rare occasions and twist across the sky in a dazzling display of color ranging from green to blue to red to yellow. Take advantage of the nice weather this weekend during both the day and the night, you’ll be glad you did! There are still three more meteor showers this year; let’s hope the weather is just a good for those.

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November 13, 2017 | 12:53 PM