Orionid meteor shower visible this weekend

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Photo Courtesy of NASA

One of the best celestial shows will be visible to the naked eye this weekend as the Orionid meteor shower hits its peak in the early-morning hours of Saturday and Sunday.

Viewing conditions for the annual meteor shower are expected to be ideal this year because it falls on one of the darkest nights of the month after the new moon.

“The Orionids peak on October 20—a dark, moonless night,” said Jane Houston Jones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. in a statement.  “Look near Orion’s club in the hours before dawn and you may see up to 10 to 15 meteors per hour.”

The best time to watch the celestial show is between midnight and sunrise on Saturday and Sunday.  Stargazers will be able to see 10 to 15 meteors, or shooting stars, per hour with the naked eye.

The Orionid meteor shower is expected to be visible anywhere, but will be better seen in areas with less light pollution.  Budding astronomers can visit darksitefinder.com/map to find areas with less light pollution.

This meteor shower occurs each year when the Earth orbits through an area of space “littered with debris from Halley’s Comet,” according to NASA.  This leaves behind cosmic dust that appears as shooting stars.

“Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, the source of the Orionids,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in a statement. “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us a couple dozen of meteors per hour.”

The meteor shower is called Orionids because of where it appears in the sky.  According to Earth Sky, the meteors appear to come from and point to the Orionids in the direction of the constellation Orion.

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