Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Orionid Meteor Shower - October 21-22

Early to bed, early to rise, there will be meteors again in the early morning skies!!

Tomorrow morning, and possibly to a somewhat greater extent, on Thursday morning as well, we'll be treated to another meteor show, this time courtesy of the debris from Comet Halley.
Photo Credit:  NASA Image of Halley's Comet from Earthsky.org
Halley's Comet might be the most famous of all comets but we usually only see it once or at most twice in our lifetime since it takes takes 76 years to complete it's orbit around the Sun. While it won't pass this way again until the year 2061, twice a year we are treated to a light show courtesy of debris from Halley's tail, first in May (the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower) and then again in October (the Orion Meteor Shower).

The Orionid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Orion where the bulk of the meteors seem to emanate. Orion is a particularly easy constellation to locate because it contains some of the brightest stars that we can see even in areas with a fair amount of light pollution.

To locate Orion in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere, look to the East - Southeast and locate Orion's belt, which is formed by three bright stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. These three very large and bright stars are aligned very close together, angling up. From there you can look higher and to the left in the sky for his shoulders which are formed by Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, and his head, marked by Meissa. Look down and to the right to find his knees, Saiph and Rigel, and if you look between his knees and his belt you'll find the spectacular Orion Nebulae. 

As your eyes acclimate to the night sky and travel from landmark to landmark in that famous constellation, you should start to see shooting stars emanating from the radiant, which is at positioned just about at the club he holds in his outstretched right arm. (Remember, his right arm is on the left as you look at him... .) It's almost as though he is throwing pixie dust -- okay, star dust - at us.

Photo Credit:  SouledOut.org ~ Navigating with Orion
Note: This early in the fall, Orion is mostly below the horizon in the evening sky. It does not rise high enough above the horizon to be fully visible until midnight or so, and when he first clears the horizon he will look as though he is lying somewhat horizontally. tilted toward his back (to the left). As he rises in the sky and travels along the equator of the sky, he will straighten up. But locating the famous belt first helps to identify the other major stars in the constellation.

If you are too tired to stay up past midnight, try catching a glimpse of some shooting stars in the early morning before dawn.  Here in California it's completely dark until nearly 7 AM when the sky is just starting to lighten for a 7:20 AM sunrise. 
Try looking out at 5:30 - 6 AM. You should still be able to see it, but follow the path of Orion across the sky's equator as it rises. It will move across the sky during the night as the Earth rotates, so look to the south west.

One other famous star that is also visible once Orion is well above the horizon and completely visible in the night sky is Sirius, the brightest star we can see. Follow the angle of Orion's belt downward and Sirius will be in an almost straight line below Alnitak.

Photo Credit:  SouledOut.org ~ Navigating with Orion
Click on THIS LINK for a map that will show the location of Orion from anywhere int he world.  

EarthSky.org has excellent information about the Orionids HERE and HERE.   

Check for moon rise and set times HERE.
And for those who want to locate the constellations that are in the evening sky, THIS is one of the best on-line star charts I've seen.  Note, however, that Orion is sitting just at the horizon and pretty much out of view during much of the evening. 

Comparing the photo (left) and the diagram below, note the change in the angle of the belt stars, which you might confuse with the nebulae that makes up the dagger.  I always orient the belt first and then it's easy to identify the other prominent stars of the constellation.
Photo Credit:  SouledOut.org ~ Navigating with Orion

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