The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks later tonight, and this year it's set to be a good one here in Australia, showing off some of the brightest, fastest meteors visible from Earth. While the moon may make viewing a little difficult this year, the Orionids have one of the most prominent radiant points of any yearly meteor shower.
The Orionid Meteor Shower is one of two meteor showers that result from Earth passing through the debris from Halley's Comet, the other being the Eta Aquarids. Like their earlier cousins, the Orionids are set to put on a decent showing for those of us in Australia, with rates of 15-20 meteors every hour. However with the waning supermoon from this week, fainter meteors may be a little more washed out.
Unlike other meteor showers that sit close to the horizon, the Orionids occupy prime position in the sky, at the top of Orion's club or sword (the bottom of the constellation as we see it in Australia). To find the radiant, look for Orion's distinctive three-star belt, then follow the constellation down to the bright star Betelgeuse. A little further down is the shower's radiant — though meteors near the radiant are faint and hard to see, so look for meteors moving away from this point across the sky.
You might also be happy to learn it's meteor season at the moment. Also sharing the sky with the Orionids are the Taurids, slower, fainter meteors that radiate from the constellation Taurus, a little higher in the sky than Orion. Closer to the horizon are the lesser known Epsilon Geminids, as displayed on the chart below. While none of them have the rate or the brilliance of the Orionids, it does slightly increase your chances of seeing a meteor.
The peak is expected to occur early Friday morning, around 3-4am. It'll be best viewed in the dark before dawn, so this might be one to get up early for, rather than staying up late. It's worth it though; even with the moon out it's expected to be one of the better meteor showers of the year.
Time and Date has a table updated daily showing the azimuth and altitude of the radiant for a number of Australian locations. It'll also estimate your best chance of viewing the Orionids from your location.
This is where the radiant will be in Sydney, estimated at 4am AEDT, 21 October. You can also see the radiants of the other, weaker meteor showers that are active at the moment.
To get the best from this year's shower, remember the following tips for optimum meteor shower viewing:
- Reduce light pollution. The further away you are from any major cities, the better.
- Find a vantage point. The Orionids are fairly high up in the sky, but the higher up your viewing point is, the more of the sky you'll be able to see.
- Use an app to locate the shower. Using a star viewing app can be the best way to locate the radiant point for the shower — in this case, the constellation Orion, which is one of the easiest to spot in the Australian sky. There are plenty of apps both free and paid for all platforms.
- Let your eyes adjust. The longer you sit in the dark, the more your eyes will pick up even when the meteors are very faint. Limit your phone use as much as possible!
- Scan the sky. While the Orionids radiate from the point just above Orion, look for meteors streaking away from the constellation. You may miss something if you only look in the one place. Remember to constantly be scanning for your best chance of seeing something.
As always, if you can't get outside or are unable to find a good vantage point, you can watch the Orionids Meteor Shower live via Slooh's video stream, kicking off at Friday 11am AEDT.