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Orionid meteor shower, sparked by Halley's comet, to peak Friday night

By Brian Lada, Accuweather.com
In this 30-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower in 2021. This weekend, the Orionids will peak. File Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA
In this 30-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower in 2021. This weekend, the Orionids will peak. File Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

Autumn's best meteor shower is about to create celestial sparks in the night sky just in time for the weekend.

The Orionids will peak on Friday night into the early hours of Saturday with as many as 20 shooting stars per hour, the strongest meteor shower since the Perseids in mid-August.

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Meteors will start to appear around 10 p.m., local time, but will be seen in greatest numbers between 1 a.m. and dawn, according to the American Meteor Society. This is the time when the shower's radiant point, located near the constellation Orion in the southeast, climbs high in the sky. The higher the radiant point is in the sky, the higher the meteor activity will be.

Although the meteors will appear to radiate from Orion, they have origins with a different celestial body.

Many meteor showers are created when the Earth plows through a field of debris left behind by a comet. The debris is typically small, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to tiny pebbles. When the debris enters Earth's atmosphere, it heats up and emits a vibrant, sometimes colorful glow for a few fleeting seconds.

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Halley's Comet is the parent of the Orionids, and in past flights through the solar system, it deposited a stream of particles that the Earth encounters every October.

Viewing the Orionids is another way to enjoy the famous comet, which will not return to the inner solar system until 2061.

Debris from Halley's Comet is also responsible for the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaks during the first week of May and is typically one of the best of the year in the Southern Hemisphere.

AccuWeather forecasters say that more than half of the United States will have favorable viewing conditions for the Orionids this year.

Largely cloud-free conditions are in the forecast from the Southeast, across the Plains and along part of the West Coast. However, some clouds are in the offing for the Northwest, including the northern Rockies.

The weather will be more disruptive for stargazers across the Midwest and Northeast as a large storm spreads clouds and rain over a large area. These clouds will also spread across most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

If cloudy conditions obscure the sky on Friday night, skywatchers can head outside later in the weekend to see shooting stars as the Orionids will continue to produce a fair number of meteors on Saturday night and Sunday night.

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The next major meteor shower on the cosmic docket is the Geminids, which peaks on the night of Dec. 13 into Dec. 14. This year is expected to be a good year for the Geminids with hourly rates exceeding 100 meteors per hour when viewed from a dark, cloud-free area.

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