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This years Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 20 and it promises to be a good display as the five day old Moon will not interfere. What makes the Orionids especially interesting is that it is one of two annual meteor showers associated with famous comet Halley. The other shower being the weaker Eta Aquariids, which occurs in May.

The Orionids are a respectable meteor shower that usually lasts for about a week although occasionally longer. In the past, peak rates of up to 70 per hour have been observed but normally the shower is not so active. This year's peak is predicted to be a respectable 25 meteors an hour on the night of October 20/21.

Radiant

The radiant of the Orionids is located in the NE part of the constellation Orion, not far from the Gemini border. Since Orion straddles the celestial equator, the Orionids are one of the few annual showers that are good for both northern and southern hemisphere observers.

When observing meteors showers it is best to wrap up warm (especially in autumn/winter), sit comfortably, preferably in a deck chair and look in the general region of the sky around the radiant. It is best not to look directly at the radiant itself as meteors can appear many degrees from it. For the Orionids, all meteor trails will trace back to the shower's radiant in the diagram shown below.

Orionids Radiant and Star Chart

Orionids Radiant and Star Chart - pdf format

What to expect

The Orionid meteoroids are fast. They hit the atmosphere at very high speeds of 235,000 km/hour (145,000 miles/hour). At this velocity they will streak through the sky. Although no major burst of activity is expected the shower is usually reliable and should put on a nice show.

Nucleus of Halley's Comet (Halley Multicolor Camera Team, Giotto Project, ESA)

It is also worth noting that these particles are leftovers from Halley's Comet apparitions every 76 years. Although Halley is now in the outer solar system and will not return close to Earth until 2061, remember that every Orionid you observe is actually a small part of the famous comet streaking through and subsequently burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Halley's Comet Data Table

Comet name1P/Halley
DiscovererPrehistoric. Edmond Halley first recognised the periodicity.
Aphelion (AU)35.1
Perihelion (AU)0.586
Semi-major axis (AU)17.8
Eccentricity0.967
Orbital period (years)75.3
Inclination (degrees)162.3
Last perihelion 9th February 1986
Next perihelion 28th July 2061

Orionids Data Table 2012

Meteor shower nameOrionids
Radiant ConstellationOrion
Dates2nd October -> 7th November
Peak Date20th October
RA (J2000)6hr 20m
DEC (J2000)+16d
Speed (km/s)65
ZHR 20 to 70