Tag Archives: Orionid meteor shower

Annual Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week

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Orionid meteors appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet. This year the peak will occur on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 21 into the morning of Thursday, Oct. 22.

“The Orionids will probably show weak activity this year,” says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office . “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere will probably give us about a dozen meteors per hour.”

The best time to look for Orionid meteors is just before sunrise on Thursday, October 22nd, when Earth encounters the densest part of Halley’s debris stream.

Observing is easy: Wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up. No telescope is necessary to see Orionids shooting across the sky. Viewing conditions are favorable this year, as the light from the gibbous Moon should set by 2 a.m. EDT time, permitting good viewing just before dawn when the rates will be at their highest.

A live stream of the night sky from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. will be available via Ustream beginning October 21, at 10 p.m. EDT. The live feed is an alternative for stargazers experiencing bad weather or light-polluted night skies. If the weather in Huntsville is clear, Orionids may be seen in the feed as early as 11:30 p.m. EDT, though the hours before dawn should show the most Orionid activity.

The display will be framed by some of the prettiest stars in the night sky. In addition to Orionids, you’ll see the Dog Star Sirius, bright winter constellations such as Orion, Gemini, and Taurus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus. Even if the shower is a dud, the rest of the sky is dynamite.

Set your alarm, brew some hot chocolate and enjoy the show!

An Orionid meteor recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station on top of Mt. Lemmon, Arizona on October 13, 2015 at 04:31 a.m. EDT.

An Orionid meteor recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station on top of Mt. Lemmon, Arizona on October 13, 2015 at 04:31 a.m. EDT.

An Orionid meteor recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station on top of Mt. Lemmon, Arizona on October 13, 2015 at 04:31 a.m. EDT.  Orionid meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Orion, circled in orange.

An Orionid meteor recorded by the NASA All Sky Fireball Network station on top of Mt. Lemmon, Arizona on October 13, 2015 at 04:31 a.m. EDT. Orionid meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Orion, circled in orange.


Fireball Lights Evening Sky Over Tri-State Area

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There was a very bright fireball over middle Tennessee last night, October 20, at 7:57:09 PM CDT. Four NASA all sky cameras, located in Tullahoma, Huntsville, Chickamauga, and North Georgia College, first detected the fireball at an altitude of 54 miles, moving slightly north of west at 47,000 miles per hour. The meteor, estimated to weigh around 10 pounds, travelled some 64 miles through the atmosphere before fragmenting 24 miles above the town of Brentwood, south of Nashville. At its brightest, the fireball rivaled the first quarter Moon, gathering a fair amount of attention in the tri-state area.

The fireball was NOT associated with the Orionid meteor shower, which is currently active. It was moving too slow and coming from the wrong direction.

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Taurids Dust the November Sky

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The Orionid meteor shower is over, as Earth has finally left the wide stream of debris produced by Comet Halley. However, we are now encountering particles produced by Comet Encke, the second comet to be assigned a name (Halley was the first). This debris wake is much larger, lasting many weeks, causing the Taurid complex of meteor showers — the South Taurids, which peak on October 10, and the North Taurids, which peak on November 12. Rates are low, only about 5 per hour, so why the interest?

1) Comet Encke is thought by some astronomers to be a piece of a larger comet that broke up 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. These comet break-ups are often caused by gravitational encounters with Earth or other planets — Jupiter especially is a bit of a Solar System bully. This break-up may explain why there are so many Encke-like pieces moving around the inner Solar System, some of them pretty big. One astronomer has even postulated that it was a huge fragment of Comet Encke’s parent that produced a 10 megaton explosion over Siberia back in 1908.

2) Taurid meteors tend to be larger than the norm, which means they are bright, many being fireballs. They also penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than many other shower meteors. For example, Orionids typically burn up at altitudes of 58 miles, whereas Taurids make it down to 42 miles. Some can get even lower — on the night of November 6, our meteor cameras tracked two 1-inch North Taurid meteors, both getting down to an altitude of of 36 miles.

3) Because they are big and possess a goodly amount of energy (imagine a 1 inch hunk of ice moving at 63,000 mph — 29 times faster than a bullet from an M-16 rifle), they produce decent quantities of light when they strike the surface of the Moon. This makes Taurid lunar impacts easy to see with Earth-based telescopes; in fact, the first lunar meteoroid impact observed by NASA was a Taurid back on November 7th of 2005, and we detected it with a 10″ telescope of the same type used by amateurs all over the world!

So when you are out at night this month, look up and watch for the occasional fireball – it’ll probably be a Taurid!

P.S. Check out the last couple weeks of meteors seen on fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov and you will notice there are several fireballs that are associated with the Northern or Southern Taurids (NTA or STA). Don’t even have to go outside!

A bright Taurid streaks across the southern Tennessee sky in this image taken by a NASA meteor camera in the wee hours of November 7, 2011.



The same Taurid; the bright flare in the meteor about two-thirds of the way into the video is caused by the meteor breaking into smaller pieces. When this happens, energy is released, resulting in a flash of light.


This graphic shows the location of the first lunar meteoroid impact observed by NASA on November 7, 2005. Originating from Comet Encke, it was a Taurid meteoroid striking the Moon’s surface with a speed of about 63,000 mph. The sequence of false color images at the lower left shows the impact flash as it evolved over consecutive video frames (1/30th second intervals).