Love shooting stars? Then you’ll love the Orionid Meteor Shower 2024. We explain everything you need to know! Have questions? Let us know in the comments below!
What Are the Orionids?
The Orionid Meteor Shower, the second meteor shower of October, peaks during the early morning hours of October 21-22 each year. Why are they called the Orionids? Because the meteors seem to emerge or radiate from the constellation Orion, near the Orion-Gemini border in Orion’s upraised club.
This annual meteor shower is caused by debris from the famous Halley’s Comet. (The comet last visited Earth in 1986 and will return next in 2061). Each time that famous comet passed around the Sun, it would leave in its wake a trail of cosmic dust and grit along its orbit. Our Earth passes closest to Halley’s orbit every mid-to-late October, and in the process, encounters this comet debris. The particles ram into our atmosphere at speeds in excess of 40 miles per second, and thanks to friction, they are raised to white heat in the span of a heartbeat, creating the effect of a “shooting star” in our sky.
When To View The Orionids
The Orionid Meteor Shower will be visible generally from mid-October until the end of the month, with the highest period of activity on October 21-22. These meteors may be seen with the naked eye. The best time to observe any meteor shower is during the early morning hours, before sunrise. The numbers of meteors tend to increase until morning twilight interferes. Generally, observers can expect to see anywhere from 10 to more than 30 meteors per hour.
An observer who plots these meteors on a star chart will notice that they seem to radiate or spray outward from northeastern Orion, between Betelgeuse and Gamma (γ) Geminorum, also known as Alhena. This region of the sky will be about two-thirds up from the southern horizon when morning twilight begins.
Details Of The Orionid Meteor Shower 2024
The Orionids should reach its peak in the early morning hours of October 20, 2024, producing about 25 swift, relatively faint meteors per hour (if your sky is completely dark). These meteors appear to dart from a region of the sky just north of the ruddy star Betelgeuse in Orion, which stands high in the south at the break of dawn. The shower may be active for more than a week before or after its broad maximum, which itself can actually last from October 20-25.
These Orionids will fall under a waning gibbous moon on October 20, so the sky will be brighter, making the shower a little more difficult to see.
Do All Comets Produce Meteor Showers?
All comets shed dust in their wake. Some comets are dustier than others. However, for a comet to produce a meteor shower, its orbit must cross/intersect our orbit in order for us to encounter/interact with that dusty debris to produce meteors. In 2020, Comet SWAN did not cross Earth’s orbit, so it did not produce meteors.
We intersect the orbit of Halley’s Comet twice. Once in early May (creating the Eta Aquarids) and again in late October (creating the Orionids).
A fresh/new trail of dust that has been recently shed by a comet might produce a meteor shower lasting only a few hours. On the other hand, a comet that has circled the Sun numerous times and has shed many different dust trails may produce a meteor shower that can last several days, or even weeks.
Encke’s Comet, which takes only 3.3 years to circle the Sun, has probably been shedding debris for many hundreds or thousands of years and its associated shower (the Taurids) takes Earth many weeks to go through.
Join The Discussion
Have you ever seen a shooting star in the Orionid Meteor Shower?
Share you experience (and photos!) with your community here in the comments below.
Meteor Shower Calendar — Plan ahead!
Joe Rao is an esteemed astronomer who writes for Space.com, Sky & Telescope, and Natural History Magazine. Mr. Rao is a regular contributor to the Farmers' Almanac and serves as an associate lecturer for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.