October skies shall be visited with the annual Orionid meteor shower. Skywatchers will delight in this year’s display – because the meteor shower is expected to peak with an almost New Moon phase, which means minimal moonlight interference.
The Orionids owe their name to the constellation Orion, the Hunter. This is because it appears to viewers that the meteor shower radiates from the region in the sky occupied by Orion.
Typically, the Orionids are classified as a medium strength meteor shower, wherein about 25 – 30 shooting stars per hour are expected during the peak window. However, the Orionids have also been known to have high strength activity (such as during the exceptional years from 2006 – 2009) when the shower produces peak rates of up to 50 – 80 shooting stars per hour. It is not yet known if this year, 2014, will be an exceptional year of Orionid meteor shower activity. In any event, the peak window for this year’s Orionids is expected to take place from October 20th through October 23rd, even though the Orionids are in fact active from as early as October 4th and on through to as late as November 14th.
The Orionids can be viewed with the naked eyes; thus, no special equipment is needed. Binoculars and telescopes can be left at home.
Interestingly enough, the Orionids can be viewed by folks residing in either hemisphere. It is suggested that those in the Northern Hemisphere look towards the southeastern quadrant of the night sky for the Orionid meteor shower, whereas those in the Southern Hemisphere should look towards the northeastern quadrant of sky.
To enjoy a meteor shower, choose a spot far away from city light interference. Bring chairs to rest on or blankets to recline upon, so as to alleviate neck strain while looking up at the sky. Because it is best to see the Orionids just after midnight and on through to dawn, it is thereby advisable to dress warmly, and perhaps bring along some snacks to enjoy with accompanying friends. After all, watching for shooting stars from a meteor shower is essentially a waiting game.
The Orionid meteor shower takes place because Earth’s orbit intersects with pockets of dusty debris left behind from Halley’s Comet. It’s no surprise then that the Orionids have been observed since ancient times. Some historians have even speculated if the Orionids had any bearing on certain events that took place from October 20th through 23rd in past centuries — such as the Battle of Sekigahara establishing the Tokugawa clan as Japan’s ruling shoguns in 1600, a Germanic aristocrat being crowned as the English King George I in 1714, Princeton University receiving its charter back in 1746, Harvard University organizing its first astronomical expedition in the US back in 1786, US forces under General Douglas MacArthur landing on Leyte (Philippines) back in 1944, and even Mikhail Gorbachev being elected member of the Politburo back in 1980. Of course, such speculation verges on the astrological, rather than remaining in the astronomical.
At any rate, the main takeaway is that stargazers are looking forward to the Orionids peaking because the minimal light interference from October’s New Moon phase is auspicious for trailblazing shooting-star wishes to be made. Happy wish-making to all!