The 2012 Orionid meteor shower will peak this weekend! Look for the greatest numbers of meteors to streak the sky in the dark hours before dawn on Saturday, October 20, and Sunday, October 21, with forecasters giving the nod to Sunday. The Orionids were created from the famous Halley’s Comet, and should deliver a very impressive show this year according to experts in the field.
The moon will be quite dark; it will only be five days after the new moon. So the moonlight won’t drown out very many of the meteors. The Orionids — so named because they appear to originate near Betelgeuse, the second-brightest star in the constellation Orion (The Hunter) — have historically produced about 20 meteors per hour during their peak. However, the shower has been especially impressive in the last half-decade or so.
A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky.
Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each shower appear to “rain” into the sky from the same region.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.