Bits of Halley’s Comet will blaze through the night sky early tomorrow morning, possibly in an outburst exceeding the normal peak of 20 or so per hour.
The peak of the Orionid meteor shower is expected in the hours before dawn at a rate of about 20 meteors per hour – some leaving trails that will last a few seconds – but the pace could be significantly higher.
NASA has noted “there is some evidence that a larger than usual peak may occur sometime between 2020 and 2022.”
Outbursts of the Orionid shower in 2006 and 2009 produced 50-75 per hour at the peak, but the American Meteor Society notes that outbursts are notoriously difficult to predict.
Outburst or not, the Orionid meteor shower will be the best of shower of the fall.
Orionid meteors light up the night sky each year between about October 2 to November 7 as Earth passes through the stream of debris left behind by Comet Halley, the parent comet of the Orionids.
The peak this year is the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 21.
The moon, in a waxing crescent phase, will set before midnight, providing dark skies for the peak.
Orionids are extremely fast meteors, slicing into the Earth’s atmosphere at about 41 miles per second.
Half of them might be expected to leave persistent trains of ionized gas trails that last for a few seconds.
The occasional Orionid can be exceptionally bright and break up into fragments.
The Orionids radiate from a point near the constellation Orion the Hunter, but the best way to spot them is to look up into the night sky from a spot away from city lights.
Halley’s Comet, which last passed by Earth in 1986, is the source of both the Orionid shower in October and the Eta Aquarid shower in May.
— Marcus Schneck/PennLive/Tribune News Service