Like all comets, Halley’s Comet leaves a diffuse trail of dust and gravel in space, following along in the same orbit. Twice each year, Earth passes through this trail and as the various bits of debris collide with our atmosphere and briefly flare before burning up, we get a meteor shower. The first of these showers is called the Eta Aquarids and happens in March, while the second happens in October and is called the Orionids.
The first meteors of the Orionid shower hit in the first few days of October, with the last stragglers showing up a whole week into November. The peak occurs on 21 October, although the Orionids have a history of putting on a consistently strong show for several days on either side of the peak, with an average rate of about 25 per hour. Orionids travel particularly fast, hitting the atmosphere at speeds overmore than 60km/s, so larger meteors will occasionally explode into fragments.
The radiant lies approximately between Betelgeuse (the bright red star marking the shoulder of Orion) and the twins of Gemini. From South Africa, this means you’ll need to be facing a little North of East, from about 1 o’clock in the morning, although the best view will be a an hour or two before sunrise. Get comfortable, with a warm blanket and flask of cocoa, and settle in to enjoy one of the prettier meteor showers.
Written by Allen Versfeld
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