The Orionids and More to Come

Amaya Mikolič-Berrios ‘21
EE Staff Writer

The evening of October 20th featured a spectacular show for everyone who happened to be looking at the night sky. The peak of the Orionid meteor shower, also known simply as the Orionids, sparked star gazers’ interest for more than just its beauty.
According to astronomer Bob Berman from an interview with Doyle Rice of USA Today, these meteors are special because they are actually “fragments of the most famous comet of all time, Halley’s Comet.”

The shower is caused by Earth’s orbit passing through the debris created by Halley’s Comet. This debris is what makes up the “shooting stars” we can see in the night sky. Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office predicts, “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us a couple dozen of meteors per hour.” In comparison to the average, about ten to fifteen meteors per hour, this is a much higher rate.

Although the Orionids can be viewed from all over the world, they appear to stem from the upper left corner of the constellation Orion, which resembles an outstretched arm or sword. Its name is no coincidence, as all meteor showers are named based on the constellation they originate from. The Perseid meteor shower, for instance, seems to come from the constellation Perseus.
Luckily for those who observed the Orionids on the night of the 20th and the early morning of the 21st, the new moon offered hardly any natural light pollition to interfere with the shooting stars. When viewing anything in the evening sky, it is best to have everything completely dark.

If you are disappointed to have missed the show, the Orionids can be seen again next year as well. These meteor showers are somewhat frequent, occuring anually and usually last for about a week at the end of October.

There will also be several other astronomical phenomena occurring soon. On November 13th, Venus and Jupiter joined for an amazing occurance at the crack of dawn. These celestial bodies are two of the brightest objects in the night sky and were easily seen without a telescope. While the planets can be seen for most of the year, this date was particularly notable because of their proximity.

According to Robert C. Victor, a former staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, this proximity of the planets is called an “epoch conjunction,” making them appear more prominent in the sky.

Additionally, the Geminid meteor shower is right around the corner and is due to peak on December 13 for those watching in the U.S. It is known to reach a frequency of between 60 and 120 meteors per hour.

Furthermore, the moon will be a waning crescent, contributing very little natural light pollution to spoil the show. Unless clouds ruin your view, the coming weeks are sure to bring some amazing sights.
So, in the astronomer’s equivalent of farewell, clear skies!

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