Orionids Meteor Shower Returns This Weekend As Halley’s Comet Passes Earth—Here’s When Peak Viewing Will Be

Orionids Meteor Shower Returns This Weekend As Halley’s Comet Passes Earth—Here’s When Peak Viewing Will Be


The Orionids meteor shower is projected to peak this weekend, according to NASA, as “one of the most beautiful showers of the year” returns nearly 40 years after Halley’s comet was last seen from Earth—here’s how to watch the event.

The comet was last seen passing by Earth in 1986 and is projected to return in 2061.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

The Orionids—meteors created from debris that originated from Halley’s comet—are expected to peak after midnight ET on October 20 and continue through the following morning, according to NASA, which noted that about 23 meteors per hour will be visible.

Anyone in the U.S. will be able to view the meteor shower if they are in a location that is “as far away from” light pollution as possible, like a forest, according to NASA, which said the best way to view the meteors is to lie down with feet pointing southeast.

It could take up to 30 minutes before people’s night-time vision adjusts, NASA said, as researchers have suggested putting away flashlights, smartphones and other devices with bright lights to better help with the adjustment.

The meteors, traveling at an estimated 41 miles per second across the sky, will leave behind a glowing “train,” or incandescent sparks of debris left behind the meteor, which will be viewable for “several seconds to minutes” as NASA recommends looking for “prolonged explosions of light.”

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will also broadcast a live stream of the night sky starting at 10 p.m. ET on October 20 for anyone who is affected by poor weather or light-polluted skies.

Only the Orionids will be visible from Earth, as Halley’s comet—last seen in 1986—is not expected to be seen until 2061.

Surprising Fact

The Orionid event is not the only annual meteor shower caused by debris and dust from Halley’s comet. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks in early May each year, according to NASA, after becoming active in early to late April. The Eta Aquarids peak at about 60 meteors per hour, though viewers in the Northern Hemisphere experience an hourly rate of about 10 meteors.

What To Watch For

Other meteor showers are expected to peak next month, including the Southern and Northern Taurids, which are expected to peak on November 6 and November 12, respectively, according to the American Meteor Society.

Key Background

The Orionids, which peak annually in mid-October, are caused by pieces of space debris from Halley’s comet that interact with Earth’s atmosphere. The meteor shower’s name originates from where the meteors are seen in the sky toward the constellation Orion. The meteor shower is also framed by various constellations across the night sky, NASA said, including Gemini and Taurus, in addition to the planets Jupiter and Venus. As Halley’s comet returns to the inner solar system, the comet sheds dust into space that eventually becomes the Orionid and the Eta Aquarid meteor showers each year. Halley’s comet—a ball of ice, rock and dust—enters the inner solar system every 76 years and is named for Edmond Halley, who noticed that three previously sighted comets had been seen in the 76-year intervals, suggesting they were the same comet. The comet was documented in the Bayeux tapestry, which outlines the Battle of Hastings in 1066, as a flying, burning rock in the sky. The comet is “one of the darkest, or least reflective, objects in the solar system,” according to NASA, and only the comet’s flaming trail is visible.

Further Reading

See ‘Shooting Stars’ From Halley’s Comet: The Night Sky This Week (Forbes)

Halley’s Comet, Last Seen In 1986, Will Unleash ‘Shooting Stars’ This Weekend—How To Watch (Forbes)

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