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If you love spectacular starry events, this weekend is perfect for you! One of this year's most impressive light shows will peak. The Orionid meteor shower will hit Earth almost head-on, giving fans a pristine view of the streaking lights.
The meteor shower is thanks to debris from Halley's Comet.
"You can see pieces of Halley's Comet during the Eta Aquarids [in May] and the Orionid meteor shower [in October and November]," NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke said.
Earthsky explained it like this:
"The comet last visited Earth in 1986 and will return next in 2061.
"As Comet Halley moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth's atmosphere most fully around October 20-22, every year. The comet is nowhere near, but, around this time every year, Earth is intersecting the comet's orbit."
Origins of the Orionids
Halley's Comet has been recorded as far back as 240 BC. However, no one realized that it was the same comet reappearing over time until 1705. Edmund Halley published the work that led to his namesake comet, "Synopsis Astonomia Cometicae," and proved that the comet reoccurred. Historical records indicated that the comet had passed in 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682. Halley died before the comet returned in 1758.
The Orionids made their first appearance in 1839. Civil War soldiers observed them as well between 1861 to 1865. The meteors are among the fastest recorded showers. Some debris can travel as fast as 238,000 km/h (148,000 mph).
Best Way to Observe the Orionid Meteor Shower
The meteors can be seen anywhere on earth and anywhere in the sky. For those gifted in star-gazing, look to Orion the Hunter. The meteor showers' point of origin will be near Orion's sword toward the star Betelgeuse. However, your best view won't be staring at that spot, according to researchers.
Cooke noted that "meteors close to the radiant have short trails and are harder to see — so you want to look away from Orion."
As with any nighttime stargazing event, make sure you're in an area with very little light pollution. Residents in large cities or brightly-lit urban areas will especially struggle with this. Get away from city lights (even ones in the distance). Space.com suggests for U.S.-based residents to go out around 1:30 a.m. and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Only use your eyes to enjoy the lights. Visual aids like telescopes and binoculars are designed for slower or stationary objects in the sky.
If you can't watch the Orionids during their prime, that's okay. You still have the Perseids and Leonids, both of which have given some of the best starry-night shows in recent years. This year, the Perseid Meteor Shower hit in August and is caused by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The Leonids meteor shower has yet to occur, so mark your calendars for November 17 and 18! The Leonids result from the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids typically have 10 to 20 meteors in an hour, but the images have been spectacular.