The Orionid meteor shower 2022 peaks this week, on the night of 21/22 October, and with the Moon not causing too much trouble, the shower makes for a great naked-eye observing event for beginners.

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Orionid meteors appear to emanate from the direction of the constellation Orion, and are actually the result of Earth passing through the orbital dust stream of comet 1P/Halley - Halley's Comet.

The Orionids can produce good trails as long as you give yourself time to become properly dark adapted and spend a period of at least 30–60 minutes outside, looking up.

Below we'll tell you all you need to know about observing an Orionid meteor this week.

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For more on meteor showers, read our meteor shower guide.

Chart showing the position of the radiant of the Orionid meteor shower in October 2022
Chart showing the position of the radiant of the Orionid meteor shower in October 2022. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Pay attention to the Moon

One thing that's always worth considering when you're planning on observing a meteor shower is the Moon. Will it be bright and full during peak meteor shower activity?

If so, its brightness will affect how many meteors you will be able to see.

This week during the peak time for Orionid meteors, an 11%-lit waning crescent Moon rises around 03:50 BST (02:50 UT) and shouldn’t cause too much of an issue.

What is the Orionid meteor shower?

An Orionid meteor appears over Nantucket, US. Credit: J. Greg Hinson, MD, www.ackdoc.com / Getty Images
An Orionid meteor appears over Nantucket, US. Credit: J. Greg Hinson, MD, www.ackdoc.com / Getty Images

The Orionid meteor shower is so-called because its peak activity has the shower radiant in Orion.

A meteor shower’s radiant is the position in the sky from where the shower meteors appear to emanate. In this case the Orionids' radiant is near the star Betelgeuse in Orion.

Meteor showers are typically (but not always) associated with comets. As a comet orbits the Sun, it releases dust.

Earth passes through these dust streams every year and, when this happens, the number of meteor trails seen increases.

Peak activity occurs when we pass through the densest part of the stream, and from our perspective the incoming trails appear to originate from the shower radiant, which slowly moves over the duration of the shower.

The Orionids are associated with comet 1P/Halley, the first such object to be determined as a periodic comet.

Halley’s Comet returns to perihelion – its closest point to the Sun, every 76 years, and was last in this position on 9 February 1986.

Look for Bellatrix on the northwest corner of the familiar Orion pattern. Credit: Pete Lawrence
The Orionid meteor shower's radiant is in the familiar constellation of Orion. Credit: Pete Lawrence

How many meteors will be visible?

The Orionid meteor shower produces a peak zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of 20 meteors per hour, but this comes with a caveat.

The ZHR represents the number of meteors you would see under perfect conditions with the meteor shower radiant – the point in the sky from which the shower trails appear to come from – directly over your head.

In reality, hardly any of these conditions are met and so the visual hourly rate, the number of meteors you’ll actually see, will be significantly lower than the ZHR.

How to observe an Orionid meteor

Lying or reclining is a great way to observe meteor showers without getting cramp in your neck. Here, meteor watchers await the Perseid peak of 12 August 2018 at the Rocky Mountain National Park in the US. Credit: STAN HONDA / AFP via Getty Images.
Lying or reclining is a great way to observe meteor showers without getting cramp in your neck. Here, meteor watchers await the Perseid peak of 12 August 2018 at the Rocky Mountain National Park in the US. Credit: STAN HONDA / AFP via Getty Images.

Find a comfortable location away from artificial lights and with a clear horizon.

Find a dark location, free from stray light, and allow about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darkness. This will help you see more stars and more meteors.

Make sure you have a clear, unobstructed view and, if possible, view in groups. This means that you'll have more eyes on the sky to spot a meteor.

You could even take it in turns to note down meteors as others spot them, creating a scientific record of your observations by the end of the evening.

A red torch enables you to check charts without ruining dark adapted vision.
A red torch enables you to check charts without ruining dark adapted vision.

Aim to look about 60° up in the sky. At this point, atmospheric thickness isn’t sufficient to reduce the brightness of meteor trails, but it's sufficiently thick for an optimal number of meteors to be seen.

Any direction will do, the south having some good constellations to enjoy.

The radiant position is close to Betelgeuse, and trails near this point will appear shortest, while those 90˚ from this point appear longest.

As you're observing in the middle of October, standing or sitting still in an open space is sure to make things chilly. It’s important to wrap up warm even if temperatures are fairly mild at the session’s start.

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When looking for meteor showers, comfort is key and using a garden chair, a recliner or sunbed is a good idea to prevent neck cramp.

Or, get yourself a decent astronomy chair that can recline.

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This guide originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

Authors

Pete Lawrence, astronomer and BBC The Sky at Night presenter.
Pete LawrenceAstronomer and presenter

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and astrophotographer, and a presenter on BBC's The Sky at Night.