Each October, stargazers look to the heavens to glimpse the Orionid meteor shower – an event brought about by debris from Halley’s Comet, and this event is set to have its 2022 peak this weekend.
While the event is active throughout the southern hemisphere’s springtime, it will begin to peak between Friday 21 and Sunday 23 October.
The best viewing – assuming clear skies – is expected in the early morning on Sunday, and is possible with the naked eye. Up to 20 of these ‘shooting stars’ should be viewable each hour, depending on viewing location.
Of course, darker skies away from light pollution in urban centres will provide the best location for viewing as well.
What are the Orionids?
This annual phenomenon is caused by the Earth’s passage through a region of space littered with ice and dust from Halley.
These meteors get their name as they appear to exist in the constellation Orion – the hunter. Their ‘twin’ meteor shower is known as the Eta Aquariids and occurs in Autumn. They too derive their name from the constellation (Aquarius) from which they appear to occur.
Those appearances are, of course, deceiving. On its last close pass near earth in 1986, Halley’s Comet came within 64 million kilometres of Earth – very close in astronomical terms. By contrast, Betelgeuse and Rigel, the bright supergiant stars of Orion, are around 500 and 863 light years from our planet.
Do you need special viewing equipment?
Just your eyes. The biggest limiting factor on our Orionid viewing experience will be cloud cover, moonlight and urban light interference. That’s why it’s best to find a clear viewing spot away from a city.
Jupiter should still be viewable after recently making its closest approach to Earth in the last seven decades.
When seeking out the Orion constellation, look for the ‘club’ of the cosmic hunter. Near this is a point known as the ‘radiant’ from which meteors should appear to emerge (although not all meteors visible will come from this location).
If you can’t see the ‘club’, perhaps look for the bright red points of Mars and Betelgeuse – they should create a (rough) right angled triangle with the radiant.