Orionids, one of the best meteor showers of the year, peaks tonight

After a short hiatus from meteor activity, the annual Orionids meteor shower is back to bring shooting stars to the night sky. It’s visible from about October 2 to November 7, as Earth passes through the debris from Halley’s Comet, but peaks this week on Tuesday, October 20 and Wednesday, October 21.

And it’s not the only exciting celestial activity this month — October features two full moons, the second of which falls on Halloween, and the closest our planet will be to Mars until 2035. 

What are the Orionids? 

The Orionids, which light up the night sky every October, is considered to be one of the most beautiful meteor showers of the year, according to NASA. 

Orionid meteors are both bright and fast. They travel at about 148,000 miles per hour, or 41 miles per second, into Earth’s atmosphere, often leaving behind glowing “trains” of debris in their wake and lasting for several seconds to even minutes. 

“The Orionids are also framed by some of the brightest stars in the night sky, which lend a spectacular backdrop for these showy meteors,” NASA said.

The meteors, which are leftover comet particles and broken asteroids, originate from the comet 1P/Halley, which orbits the sun about once every 76 years. The comet was last spotted in 1986, and won’t enter the inner solar system again until 2061. 

The comet is named after Edmond Halley, who discovered its 76-year orbit in 1705. Halley believed that three previous comets were all the same one — a prediction that proved true when it came back around after his death. 

Halley’s comet is perhaps the most famous comet of all time, cited for millennia, and even featuring on the Bayeux tapestry, which displays the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

The Orionids get their name from the constellation Orion, which is the point in the sky where they appear to come from. The constellation isn’t the source of the meteors, rather, it serves to help skywatchers determine which meteor shower they are viewing. The meteor shower’s radiant point is just to the north of Orion’s bright star, Betelgeuse.

Orionid meteor shower in Russian Far East
Meteors streak across the night sky during the Orionid meteor shower on October 23, 2016, in Primorye Territory, Russia.

Yuri SmityukTASS via Getty Images

How to watch the meteor shower 

The Orionids peak in the early morning hours on October 21 each year, but are strongly visible in the surrounding nights. They are visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres in the hours after midnight, but you can check timeanddate.com to find out the best viewing time for your area.

Conditions should be favorable, as the next full moon is not until Halloween, on October 31. 

As always, NASA advises finding an area with little light pollution, and bringing a sleeping bag, since you may be there for a while. To see the meteors, lie flat on your back, with your feet facing southeast if you are in the Northern Hemisphere or northeast if you are in