As far as sky shows go, there are few that are more beautiful than the Orionid meteor shower. Thankfully, there's still time to carve out some room in your weekend plans for skywatching, which means you may be wondering what the best time is to see the Orionid meteor shower this weekend. Don't worry — we've got you covered.
According to Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, who spoke with USA Today, the Orionid shower is so popular among amateur and experienced stargazers alike because it's linked to another fan favorite: Halley's Comet. "[All] of [the Orionid shower's] individual shooting stars are fragments of the most famous comet of all time," he explained.
Halley's Comet "swings by Earth every 75 to 76 years," according to Space.com, and leaves a trail of "comet crumbs" that tends to appear in Earth's orbit in late October each year. And the comet crumbs that make up the Orionids may be extra popular this year because there's going to be little pollution from moonlight on Oct. 20, the shower's peak night, making the shooting fragments clearly visible to viewers. In its monthly What's Up post for October 2017, NASA said skywatchers can expect to see 10 to 15 meteors per hour during the Orionids — a relatively low rate compared to bigger showers like the Perseids or Geminids, which can offer viewers 50 to 100 meteors per hour, according to the American Meteor Society.
But few though they are, the Orionid shower's meteors are some of the fastest and brightest, so check below to see when you should step outside and see them for yourself.
No matter where you are on Earth, you'll be able to see the Orionids between midnight and dawn on Oct. 20 and 21. So, no dealing with pesky charts to figure out what exact minutes you'll need to be outside. Seeing the shower should be fairly simple: Space.com advises going out around 1:30 a.m. your time and letting your eyes adjust to the darkness for 20 or so minutes so you'll have the best view possible.
Even though you'll have a wide viewing window from wherever you may be, you'll still want to try to improve your view as much as possible. Speaking to Space.com, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke said if you find Orion the Hunter, the meteor shower's point of origin will be near Orion's sword, "slightly north of his left shoulder."
But you should only use Orion to find the shower. Don't stare straight at the constellation, "because meteors close to the radiant have short trails and are harder to see — so you want to look away from Orion," Cooke explained.
If you're not sure how to best view the Orionids — or any meteor shower generally — Sky & Telescope has a helpful guide full of tips to make your viewing experience as excellent as possible.
The top tip, as you can probably guess, is to get as far away from any potential light pollution as possible. Since there will be little moonlight, this involves getting away from big city lights and finding a good view of the sky.
Sky & Telescope recommends some standard stargazing gear: a reclining lawn chair, a sleeping bag if it's chilly enough, a watch, and a dim (and red-filtered) flashlight.
Though the Orionids will be at their peak Oct. 20 and 21, but if you're not able to get out on those two nights, they will still be visible — if not in top form — through Oct. 29. And, of course, there's always next year, and each year after that, since the remnants of Halley's Comet's last flyby in 1986 will be showing themselves off to us each October until the famous comet's next pass in 2061.