A major meteor shower will peak during the last half of October. Although I was not going to write a story about it this year because of bright moonlight around the time of maximum, I have decided it could still be worth observing.
The meteor shower is the Orionids and it gets its name because it appears to radiate from the constellation Orion. It was discovered in 1839 by E. C. Herrick (Connecticut, USA).
There are three reasons that I think it is worth watching this shower in 2010.
First, this meteor shower is produced by Halley’s Comet. If you did not see this famous comet during its last return in 1986, sitting out and watching the Orionids will give you a chance to see dust shed by this comet about three millennia ago! Halley’s Comet actually produces two meteor showers each year. The second shower occurs in May and is called the Eta Aquarids.
Second, the observing conditions are comparable to what Herrick experienced in 1839. In that year and in this year, the moon was/is full on October 22. Herrick actually did not look for meteors after October 15, probably because of increasing moonlight, but there are special circumstances this year which could make watching the Orionids worthwhile, despite moonlight.
Third, the Orionids have been stronger than normal during the last three years. Mikiya Sato (National Astronomical Observatory, Japan) recently released details of his study of this meteor shower and finds that another stronger than normal display is expected in 2010. He attributes the increase to Earth passing through dust trails laid down by Halley’s Comet about 3000 years ago. The result of these dust trails will be a probable broad maximum…meaning that the peak could extend from October 20 to 25, with hourly rates near 25 per hour.
Admittedly, the moon will could drop these numbers to about 5-10 meteors per hour during this period, but this could still make the Orionids worth your while this year. The best time to observe the Orionids will be from about 4 to 6 a.m., when Orion will be at its highest. The only equipment needed to make observations are a reclining lawn chair and clear, dark skies.
Update: Reports from observers in various parts of the world on October 19 and 20 indicate the Orionids are far more active than normal…even higher than Sato’s prediction. This meteor shower is definitely worth watching, despite moonlight.
For more info: Check out Gary W. Kronk’s Meteor Showers Online web page at http://meteorshowersonline.com/orionids.html.