Monday, October 21, 2013

Orionid Meteor Shower Tonight

Posted by Kirk
The Orionid Meteor Shower will be visible tonight in the Twin Cities (the rest of the world as well.)

I remember when Halley's comet came though back in 1986. It got a lot of people interested in astronomy. It left another legacy, one it leaves every 76 years when it swings by. The debris that burns up in a meteor shower is from dust trails left by passing comets. The trail for the Orionids was laid down by Halley's cometWhen we encounter thick lanes of dust there can be a meteor storm such as depicted in the drawing on the left from 1833. Tonight's show is not expected to be a storm though some Orionids can be bright. In general the Orionids are dim. The Orionids are a second tier shower, usually not as numerous as the Perseids in August and Geminids in December.

The best time to view won't be just after sundown as you might expect, it will be before you usually get up. 4:00 AM CDT is perhaps your best bet is to watch for meteors early in the morning. Orion should be well up in the sky at that point. The most recent forecast calls for clouds at that hour but if the sky is clear and you're up before the sun it is worth a look. A waning gibbous moon tonight will also be washing out meteors so by all accounts, not the best year for the Orionids.

If you can't see any tonight you might be able to listen to them on Space Weather Radio. You can read about listening to meteors and hear some of my audio samples on my Listening to the Leonids article.

People have asked me where the best place is to view meteor showers in the twin cities metro area. That's a tough question. It all depends on how many you want to see. I've seen plenty of meteors from my light polluted St. Paul back yard. Shield your eyes from any stray light such as street lamps and turn the lights off in your house. Most of all, let your eyes adjust to the dark. Fifteen to thirty minutes of letting your eyes adjust to the dark will let you see many many more meteors.

Suppose you want to drive a little though to get a good view? Check out the Minnesota Astronomical Society website. They have a really cool light pollution map created by Craig Cotner. If you look at the map, you can see light pollution is pretty bad anywhere near the metro. What direction to travel depends a little on where in the metro you live. Heading out to an area in the yellow zone on the map will at least give you somewhat darker skies. You need a minimum of a two hour drive to get to a truly dark site and likely it will take even longer. Think boundary waters for true darkness! At any rate, you can most likely easily see a few good "shooting stars." from your own back yard.



Jeffrey Willius said...

I love your occasional posts, Kirk. They help us all keep one eye on Nature, the only real, constant source of truth, beauty, health and inspiration in this world of "virtuals."