When is the Orionid meteor shower: How and where to watch 2016’s biggest cosmic event in the UK

If you mix with circles interested in astronomy, you may be hearing some excited talk about the Orionid shower, as tonight the shower reaches its peak, with up to 30 meteors per second crossing the sky above Britain. But what is it, and why should you care? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the Orionid shower?

The Orionid shower is a specific annual meteor shower associated with Halley’s Comet, which last visited the Earth in 1986. Even though it isn’t expected again until 2061, debris from the comet hits the Earth’s atmosphere every October, when the Earth intersects its orbit. This causes white streaks of light to appear in the night sky, which is obviously a treat for stargazers.

What causes the Orionid shower?

When the Earth intersects the orbit of Halley’s Comet, debris from it collides with our atmosphere. As this debris – travelling at 37 miles per second – burns up, white streaks of light appear across the night sky.

When can I see the Orionid shower?

Although the Orionid shower is visible throughout October, the whole thing peaks on 21-22 October, when you may be able to see between 15 and 30 meteors per hour. The best time to see the shower is before dawn, and you’ll want to find a clear, dark sky to watch. Remember to give your eyes around 20 minutes to adapt to the dark.

NASA’s advice is to lie on your back looking up in order to enjoy a full panoramic view of the sky, and to have the best chance of spotting them. So pack a sleeping bag and hunt for an area as free of light pollution as possible.

What does the Orionid shower look like?

White streaks of light in the sky, lasting only a couple of seconds. Words, I appreciate, don’t do it justice, so this wonderful time-lapse video can step in and do the heavy-lifting on my behalf:

Why is it called an Orionid shower?

All meteor showers get their name from the region of the sky from where the meteors appear to come from. In the case of the Orionid shower, that’s just above Betelgeuse in Orion.

Did you catch last September’s supermoon lunar eclipse? Here are the best snaps from Twitter.

Image: Mike Lewinski used under Creative Commons

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