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Orionid meteor

What: an annual celestial light show of "shooting stars" or meteors.

When: This year, peak viewing occurs on October 20-21, 2018 beginning around midnight, growing more spectacular in the early morning hours until dawn.

Where: Orionids originate in the southeastern sky between the Gemini and Orion constellations.

What to bring: lawn chair, bottled water or hot cocoa, camera, tripod.

Every year, in an early morning in October, the Orionid meteor shower puts on a spectacular celestial show.

Although visible throughout the month, the Orionids are best seen from October 17 - 25.

In 2018, they are predicted to peak on the evening of October 20, continuing overnight into the early morning hours of October 21 -- producing more than 20 meteors per hour streaking across the night sky.

But meteor spotters will have to extra watchful this year. A nearly full moon will interfere with prime viewing in 2018 as the Orionids make their annual passage across the heavens some 60 miles above the earth.

Since the shower's radiant point is close to the celestial equator, the Orionids are truly an international event. That means astronomers (amateur and otherwise) can sit back and enjoy the show in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

The origins of the Orionids

In the night sky, Orionid meteors stream from what appears to be the elbow of Orion the Hunter in the Orion constellation. Yet the Orionids real origins are even more intriguing.

Named for astronomer Edmond Halley, Halley's Comet makes a visit to our inner solar system approximately every 76 years. Each time the famous comet swings by the sun, bits of debris are sent flying off into space. Although most are not bigger than a speck of sand they streak by at some 90,000 mph, resulting in the celestial fireworks known as the Orionids.

The Orionids are the second of two showers that occur annually as a result of dust released by Halley's Comet, the first being the Eta Aquarids.

Halley's Comet
Halley's Comet. Every year in October, remnants from the famous comet zoom by 60 miles above the Earth,
resulting in a celestial fireworks display known as the Orionids
(photo courtesy ESA/Max-Planck-Institute.)

How to view Orionids

Today, the best place to observe the Orionid meteor shower (or any meteor shower for that matter), is somewhere dark, away from light pollution, and with the moon out of the field of vision. The less light visible, the more brilliant the meteor shower will be.

While mostly viewable to the naked eye, the annual Orionid meteor show may be partially obstructed by the moon, clouds or night mist, so amateur astronomers may want to carry along a pair of binoculars just in case.

Even on clear nights, some type of viewing aid may come in handy for catching sight of even the faintest of falling stars, aptly named "telescopic" meteors. However, most experts advise to just forget the telescope - and simply look up toward the southeastern sky.

For photographing the annual event, a digital camera mounted on a tripod helps to steady the swiftly moving images. A quick trigger finger also helps, but even random clicks during the height of Orionid "prime-time" will also guarantee that you'll catch something! Be sure to have the camera focused on infinity and, if your camera permits, leave the shutter open for several minutes for the most spectacular photographic effects.

More about Orionid meteor showers around the Web:

Observing the Orionids
- Historical background, facts and information with related photos, diagrams, and scheduled peak dates and best viewing times.

Orionids - Wikipedia - A brief description with facts and information on Orionids origins, and a spectacular photo gallery.

Meteors: A Primer - Brief but informative overview of common terms that help identify various sizes and types of meteors.

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