Orion the Hunter has a treat in store Friday morning, when the annual Orionid meteor shower will send tens of meteors streaking across the sky each hour before dawn. The Orionids are a favorite fall tradition for many amateur astronomers, but you don’t need to be a seasoned observer — anyone can easily catch this stunning show.
What is Orionid Meteor?
Whenever the famed Halley’s Comet makes a trip through the inner solar system every 75 years or so, it leaves behind clouds of dust and cosmic detritus. And each year around this time, our planet floats through some of those clouds, producing what we know as the Orionid meteor shower.
The 2022 Orionids are set to peak Thursday evening and into the following morning. The American Meteor Society predicts that sky watchers with ideal conditions could catch between 15 and 20 meteors per hour. Sometimes the shower surprises with outbursts that triple that figure.
When, where, and how to watch
This year, the popular shower peaks the morning of Friday, October 21. The best time to watch for shooting stars is in the hours between about 2 A.M. local time and dawn. That’s when the radiant, or point from which shower meteors originate, is highest. The radiant is located in the southern sky, slightly northeast of bright Betelgeuse, Orion’s red shoulder star. The chart below will show you where to look around 5 A.M. local time on Friday morning, though the radiant may be slightly lower or higher depending on your latitude. You can also use this chart for several days after Friday, as the early-morning sky will look much the same.
“The best time to see these meteors is from 1 a.m. to dawn (local time),” explains Bob Lunsford of the American Meteor Society in a blog post for AMS. “At the time of maximum activity the source of these meteors lies just east of the faint club of Orion. This position also lies about 10 degrees northeast of the bright orange star known as Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis). 10 degrees is equal to one’s fist with your arm held straight out.”
If you head out to look for Orionids, you can try to follow Lunsford’s tips, or take a shortcut by locating Orion using an app like Stellarium. Putting the constellation in the center of your field of view will help maximize the experience, but anyone with a decently broad vantage point of the night sky will have a good chance of catching the shooting stars.
As the bits of comet crumbs collide with our atmosphere, they burn up in a fleeting instant, producing the short trains across the sky we call shooting stars. Larger or slower-moving bits can flame out as bigger, brighter fireballs.