BOSTON (CBS) — Ready for one of the best cosmic shows of the year?? Thanks to Halley’s Comet, our skies will be lit up over the next several nights!
Everybody has heard of the famous Halley’s Comet. If you were around back in 1986, perhaps you even got a glimpse. While we won’t get to see it again until the year 2061, each and every year we get reminded of its pass through our solar system in the form a meteor showers (the Aquarids in May and Orionids in October/November).
How is it that we are still seeing meteors from a comet which passed by more than 30 years ago? Great question!
When comets pass relatively close to our sun, some of the pieces are melted off and a trail of “comet crumbs” are left behind. As the Earth orbits around the sun, occasionally it will pass through this leftover trail of comet junk.
The meteor showers vary in intensity each year depending upon how much of this cosmic junk (dust particles) are in the path of our planet. Typically the Orionids are a pretty decent show, some of the fastest and brightest of the year, mostly because the Earth literally hits the comet’s dust trail head on.
The Orionids radiate from an area of the sky close to the constellation Orion (go figure). This time of year, that portion of the sky is most visible after midnight, close to 2 a.m. You don’t have to stare at Orion to see the show though. . . simply find a dark area (away from city lights), lie back, and be patient.
There have already been reports of a few Orionids streaking across our sky in the last 24 hours, kind of a pre-show tease.
The show will peak this weekend and viewing conditions this year will be spectacular. Not only will the weather be clear (and mild) but thanks to a new moon, there won’t be any moonlight to dim the show either. During the best years, the Orionids can produce more than 100 meteors per hour. Astronomers aren’t predicting anything quite that exciting this year, but 20-30 per hour is certainly a possibility.
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