Debris from Halley's Comet to spark Orionid meteor shower Sunday night
October 17, 2018; 8:03 AM
Cloud-free conditions will allow much of the United States to see this weekend's Orionid meteor shower, the first major shower of the fall.
The Orionids will peak on Sunday night and into early Monday morning, but stargazers should also be able to see some meteors on Saturday night leading up to the shower's peak, weather permitting.
"Activity is expected to be a little higher this year than in years past with 20 to 25 meteors per hour, but bright moonlight will be an issue," AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.
The nearly full moon will be shining brightly in the sky for most of the night, making it harder to see some of the dimmer meteors, but it will not ruin the celestial show completely.
Many people heading out to spot some shooting stars this weekend are in luck as mainly clear conditions are on tap for a large area of North America on Sunday night.
This includes cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C., St. Louis and Denver. However, residents of these cities may want to head out to a darker area as light pollution from the city will greatly reduce the number of meteors visible to the naked eye.
Meanwhile, those in the Midwest, south-central U.S. and Four Corners region will be facing cloudy conditions on Sunday night that obscure the shower for most of the night.
Mostly cloudy weather will also lead to poor viewing conditions across much of Alaska as a large storm system spins over the region, while partly to mostly cloudy weather is expected in Hawaii.
Meteor showers, like the Orionids, occur on a yearly basis when the Earth passes through a trail of debris left behind by a comet.
"This shower is sparked by the famous Halley's Comet," Samuhel said.
"Debris from Halley's Comet on the other side of the solar system causes the Eta Aquarius meteor shower in spring, but the Orionids are the more active shower," Samuhel added.
This debris vaporizes and glows bright as it enters the planet's atmosphere and sometimes leaves behind a trail of vapor or smoke that is visible for one of two seconds.
Meteor shower viewing tips
No special equipment is needed to view a meteor shower, but being in a dark spot away from city lights and allowing your eyes to adjust to the dark are a few easy ways to increase the number of shooting stars that you're able to see.
Onlookers will start to spot the Orionids shortly after nightfall with the frequency of meteors gradually increasing as the night continues and the shower's radiant point, located near the constellation Orion, climbs above the horizon.
"The shower is best viewed after midnight through dawn when Orion is highest in the sky," Samuhel said.
Although the meteors will originate from near Orion, they will be visible in all areas of the sky.
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This year, the best time to view the Orionids will be a brief window after the moon sets and before morning twilight begins.
"The moon will set around 5 a.m. local time [on Monday morning], leaving a couple of hours before dusk to view the shower without moonlight," Samuhel said.
Stargazers trying to view the Orionids while the moon is above the horizon should try to focus on an area of the sky away from the moon.
After the Orionids, stargazers will have to wait until the middle of November to see another meteor shower with the Northern Taurids peaking on Nov. 11 and the Leonids peaking on Nov. 17.