The object in the picture isn’t a meteor. It’s the most famous of all comets, Comet Halley, the parent of the Orionid meteor shower. The Orionid meteors are expected to produce the greatest number of meteors tonight, especially in the dark hours before dawn tomorrow morning (Monday, October 21).
The meteors look like streaks of light in the night sky. They’re sometimes called shooting stars. Unfortunately, in 2013, the waning gibbous moon will drown out all but the brightest Orionid meteors.
Comet Halley – the Orionid’s parent object, pictured at the top of this post – last visited Earth in 1986. As the comet moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22. Around this time every year, Earth is more or less intersecting the comet’s orbit.
The cometary debris left behind by Comet Halley – bits of ice, dust and rubble – create the Orionid meteor shower.
The best time to watch this shower will be between the hours of midnight and dawn – regardless of time zone. Oftentimes, 10 to 15 meteors per hour can be seen on a dark, moonless night. But this year, there are no moonless nights to greet the 2013 Orionid meteor shower. If you’re lucky, you still might see a meteor or two in moonlight.
If the meteors originate from Comet Halley, why are they called the Orionids? The answer is that meteors in annual showers are named for the point in our sky from which they appear to radiate. The radiant point for the Orionids is in the direction of the constellation Orion the Hunter. Hence the name Orionids.
Even one meteor can be a thrill. Bring along a blanket or lawn chair – after midnight or before dawn – and lie back comfortably while gazing upward. Some Orionid meteors may still be bright enough to light up this moonlit night!