Thanks to Halley's Comet, it’s the annual peak of the Orionid meteor shower, one of the best times to see shooting stars in 2019.

By Jamie Carter
October 19, 2019

Space dust left in the solar system by Halley's Comet will slam into Earth’s atmosphere in the early hours of Tuesday morning as October’s second meteor shower peaks.

What is the Orionid meteor shower?

Happening from October 2 through November 7, but peaking late Monday, October 21 in the early hours of Tuesday, October 22, the Orionid meteor shower is an annual event that brings between 20 and 40 visible shooting stars every hour.

Why are they called the Orionids?

Meteor showers are named after the area of the night sky that they appear to be concentrated in. It’s no surprise that for the Orionids, that’s the constellation of Orion, which is rising in the southeastern sky in the few hours after sunset as seen from the northern hemisphere, and in the northwestern sky as seen from the southern hemisphere.

Orions Belt, shooting stars
Credit: Allexxandar/Getty Images

How do you find the ‘radiant point’ for the Orionids?

The exact point that the meteoroids appear to originate from—what astronomers call the “radiant point”— is above the head of Orion, close to Collinder 69, which is a beautiful open cluster of stars that are very bright.

From either hemisphere, find Orion’s Belt then locate the bright, red supergiant star Betelgeuse nearby, and you’ll be very close to the radiant of the Orionids.

When is the best time to look for the Orionids?

From just before midnight on Monday until around 1 a.m. Tuesday is the best time to look for the meteor shower! Luckily, the Hunter’s Moon has waned, though the moon—albeit less than 50 percent illuminated—rises around midnight. It should be dark enough to see any shooting stars for at least an hour or so after the shower begins. Now all we need is clear skies!

What causes meteor showers?

Streams of tiny dust particles and cosmic debris—meteoroids—are left in the solar system by passing comets. When Earth’s orbital path around the sun takes it through those streams, a meteor shower is the result. The misnamed “shooting stars” themselves are caused when the meteoroids hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn-up, instantly shining for a second or less.

What causes the Orionids?

In the case of the Orionids, the exact cause is Halley’s Comet, the only naked-eye comet that can appear twice in a human lifetime. Surely the most famous comet of all, this 5.5 km-wide radius comet enters the solar system and crosses the orbital path of Earth (hence the meteor shower) every 75 years. It was last here in 1986 and will next appear in 2061.

However, the Orionids are not the only annual meteor shower caused by Halley’s Comet. The Eta Aquarids, which will peak next on May 5-6, 2020, are also a product of the famous comet, though the Orionids are more prolific.

When’s the next meteor shower?

October has been a busy month for meteor showers, with the Draconids preceding the Orionids. Next up is the Leonids shower—named after the constellation of Leo the Lion and caused by Comet Tempel-Tuttle—which runs November 6–30, with the peak night of activity on November 17–18.