October 20, 2009
Right now, the Earth is traveling through a trail left behind by Halley’s comet, which last passed through our neighborhood in 1986 (it will return in 2061). These little bits of debris produce a yearly meteor shower, the Orionids, named so because they appear to originate in the constellation Orion.
The best time to see this little light show—around 15 to 20 green and yellow meteors each hour during peak in the Northern Hemisphere—is tomorrow morning before dawn when the crescent moon is below the horizon and its light cannot overpower the streaky meteors. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere will get an even better show, according to meteorshowersonline.com.
The discovery of the Orionid meteor shower should be credited to E. C. Herrick (Connecticut, USA). In 1839, he made the ambiguous statement that activity seemed to be present during October 8 to 15. A similar statement was made in 1840, when he commented that the “precise date of the greatest meteoric frequency in October is still less definitely known, but it will in all probability be found to occur between the 8th and 25th of the month.”
The first precise observation of this shower was made by A. S. Herschel on 1864 October 18, when fourteen meteors were found to radiate from the constellation of Orion. Herschel confirmed that a shower originated from Orion on 1865 October 20. Thereafter, interest in this stream increased very rapidly—with the Orionids becoming one of best observed annual showers.
StarDate Online recommends going to a city or state park, away from the lights, and lying down to get the best view of the sky. “If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.” And if it’s cloudy where you live, you can’t get to a dark enough spot or you oversleep, don’t worry–you’ve got a few more chances to view a meteor shower in the coming months:
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