We’re All About To Smash Through Trash From 1986’s Halley’s Comet. Here’s What To See And When

In the early hours of Wednesday, October 21, 2020, planet Earth will plunge through a trail of dust and debris left in the in the inner Solar System by the most famous comet of them all.

Did you see Halley’s Comet when it was last in the Solar System in 1986? Also known as 1P/Halley, it’s next due back in our neighborhood in 40 years.

It’s reckoned to be the only naked-eye comet that can appear twice in a human lifetime. Unlike Comet NEOWISE, which isn’t coming back for 7,000 years.

It’s also responsible for two annual meteor showers, one of which peaks this coming week—the Orionid meteor shower.

Here’s everything you need to know about when to look, where to look and what you’ll see if you go outside looking for shooting stars this week.

What is the Orionid meteor shower?

It’s an annual meteor shower of medium strength that occurs between October 2 and November 7 in 2020. Expect between 10-20 “shooting stars” on the peak night, which travel at 41 miles/67km per second. That’s very fast. though Orionids do tend to have long, visible trains—streaks in the sky that are visible for a second or so.

When is the Orionid meteor shower?

The peak—when most activity is expected—will take place in the early hours of Wednesday, October 21, 2020. At that point the young Moon will be 23% illuminated, so just a crescent, thus shouldn’t be much of a problem at. The key time to watch is the few hours before dawn according to EarthSky.

You can, of course, take your chances and look well before midnight—and you may well spot some shooting stars—but the major activity will take place when skies are darkest.

Why is it called the Orionid meteor shower?

Although they are caused by Halley’s Comet, the Orionids get their name from their apparent point of origin—their radiant point. That’s within the constellation of Orion, which is rising in the east around midnight.

More specifically, it’s close to Betelgeuse, but the “shooting stars” can appear anywhere in the night sky.

Where is Halley’s Comet now?

You won’t see Halley’s Comet until the year 2061 so don’t bother looking—it’s way, way, way too dim—but know that its current position is within the constellation of Hydra, the water snake. It’s a tricky constellation to make out in its entirety, but if you’re looking at the constellation of Orion as you wait for shooting stars, cast your eyes due east and Hydra will be rising.

So while Halley’s Comet isn’t close at all to us at present—in fact, it’s outside the orbit of Neptune—it’s lurking out there in the same field of view as the radiant point of the Orionids.