The offspring of Halley's Comet are set to put on quite a show over the skies of Prince George's County this week.
Earth began its pass through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet on Monday, giving us the benefit of the annual Orionid meteor shower—though you probably won't see much until a bit later.
Meteor activity should be at its best the night of Saturday, Oct. 20, until just before dawn on Oct. 21. This year, the moon will be setting at about midnight, which will keep the sky dark enough that—barring cloud cover—you should be able to see up to 15 meteors per hour.
Francis Reddy, science writer for NASA Goddard's Astrophysics Science Division, and author of the book Celestial Delights: The Best Astronomical Events Through 2020, offers some tips for viewing the meteor shows in the local area:
- Get as far away from light sources as possible—make sure there are no bright light sources behind you.
- Allow enough time for your eyes to adapt to the dark—which can take upwards of 20 minutes.
- Focus on the darkest part of the sky.
- Don't turn your head to talk with friends, stay focused on the sky because the meteors will come fast.
What makes this particular shower so cool? First, c'mon, it's a show of shooting stars!
Also, there's no question about where to look for this one. Meteor showers get their names from the constellations in the sky where they can be spotted. And what's easier to spot than Orion the Hunter?
The stars tend to shoot from Orion's club, pierce Taurus the Bull, the Gemini twins, Leo the Lion and then Canis Major, home of Sirius, the brightest star we can see—well, aside from the sun.
Something else special about this show: With the second-fastest entry velocity of all the annual meteor showers, meteors from the Orionids produce yellow and green colors and occasionally produce an odd fireball.
Obviously, you'll have more luck catching the shooting stars if you're in a place not polluted by light.
Please remember that most Prince George's County park facilities close at sunset—see the county's rules and regulations for more information.