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Author Topic: Orionid meteor shower, featuring debris from Halley’s comet, peaks Friday night  (Read 1894 times)

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Orionid meteor shower, featuring debris from Halley’s comet, peaks Friday night

Cloud cover forecast for viewing the Orionids meteor shower Friday night. (Matthew Cappucci)
By Matthew Cappucci
October 18 at 10:21 AM

Searching for a fun thing to do this weekend? How about looking up! The Orionid meteor shower peaks over the next few days, unleashing as many as 15 to 20 meteors an hour under dark, clear skies.

This year’s show will be a little trickier to catch, thanks to a waxing gibbous moon. That will outshine many of the fainter meteors, but with a little bit of patience you’ve still got a good shot at snagging some shooting stars. The display will begin to taper down by Sunday.

In the nation’s capital, the predawn hours of Saturday morning may be the best time to look — after the moon sets at 3:05 a.m. and before the sky brightens before sunup. However, clouds and showers from a passing cold front could spoil the show. The weather may be an issue from the Eastern Seaboard to the Midwest, but the Rockies will enjoy perfect stargazing conditions.

The best viewing will be after midnight and before local sunrise, when the constellation Orion is high in the southeast sky. While the meteors will appear to radiate from that point, there’s no need to stare at one location. There will be an equal distribution of shooting stars across the sky.

In fact, it’s best not to look solely at the radiant. That’s because meteors coming from that direction strike the atmosphere nearly head-on and subsequently appear to have shorter, dimmer tails. The ones that leave the best, longest strip of colors are those that skip through the atmosphere at an angle. The secret is finding a dark area away from city lights and giving yourself long enough for your eyes to adjust.

Meteor showers result when Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by a comet, asteroid or other piece of junk flying around in space. When our planet plows through them, they become trapped in our gravitational field and burn in the upper atmosphere. It’s just like bugs spattering off the windshield of your car on a warm summer day — they leave a streak of color where they hit.

When it comes to a shooting star, that trail of light is courtesy of metallic compounds in the space rock being vaporized. The friction the meteor encounters because of air drag high in the sky generates an enormous amount of heat, and POOF! The debris disappears, combusting in a colorful burst of light.

But where does this debris come from? In the case of the Orionids, the answer might have you thinking back to 1986: Halley’s comet.

Returning every 76 years, Halley’s comet made its last appearance when Reagan was in the White House, the average cost of a new home was $89,430, and Oprah Winfrey was debuting the first episode of her soon-to-be hit show. The comet won’t be back until 2061. But even though Halley’s comet is gone, it certainly isn’t forgotten.

We’re reminded of it every spring and fall, when rice-grain-size bits of material from the seven-mile-wide ball of ice and dust light up the skies. That clustering of interstellar pebbles contributes to the Eta Aquarid meteor shower every spring and is the main source that touches off the Orionids every fall.

Every meteor shower has its own character, and the Orionids are no exception. Blink and you’ll miss it, because this shower’s shooting stars are fast — traveling more than 40 miles per second! While they won’t last more than a split second, their speed will boost their brightness. A luminous trail of excited gas and smoky dust may linger in the wake of a meteor for a few seconds.

And if you miss this one, don’t fret! A much more prolific meteor shower — the Geminids — is coming the second week of December.

Offline Josh

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Prepare your vhf rigs for meteor scatter propagation!
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Just remember "Day of the Triffids".

Offline ThaDood

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Yeah, if you can't see them, due to rain, then listen for them. If it's possible to find a quiet spot on the FM broadcast band, besides the end and beginning of the band, use a 1/4-wave whip antenna and listen for quick pop-ins and outs of multiple stations. Car stereos are great for that. Back in the 90's, I read an article in Popular Communications MAG where some DX'ers would get those 6hr, super slow, cassette recorders and leave them recording on an empty FM FREQ, then review later on the tape to see if an ID could be caught. I never did that, but I did listen indoors with a Bose Acoustic Wave System to meteor scatter that way, and that unit's telescopic whip still worked fine for doing this.
I was asked, yet another weird question, of how I would like to be buried, when I finally bite the big one. The answer was actually pretty easy. Face-down, like a certain historical figure in the late 1980's, (I will not mention who, but some of you will get it, and that's enough.) Why??? It would be a burial that will satisfy everyone: (1) My enemies will say that it will show me where to go. (2) On the same point, I can have my enemies kiss my butt. (3) It will temporarily give someone a place to park a bicycle. See??? A WIN / WIN for everyone.

Offline Josh

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Offline Pigmeat

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Just remember "Day of the Triffids".

Wear your football helmet if you go out looking for the Orionids, Al. No point in you getting Hale-Bopped in the head again.

Offline Josh

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Lol yeh, next thing you know you're starting a ufo/comet cult for geniuses, putting $5s in your nikes, and drinking a final koolaid. Dunno if aviators are a given in comet/ufo cults like they are in others.
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