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Orionids 2011: How To See The Meteor Shower


First Posted: 10/20/11 07:32 PM ET Updated: 12/19/11 05:12 AM ET

There's good news for stargazers this weekend: The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks on Friday and Saturday mornings, according to WXYZ-TV, so get ready to stay up late (or get up very early) and look to the sky to catch some of the action.

About The Orionid Meteor Shower:

Deborah Netburn at the Los Angeles Times explains the origin of the meteor shower:

The Orionids occur each October as the Earth passes through a trail of dust left by Halley's comet. When one of those dust particles — about the size of a grain of sand — enters Earth's atmosphere, it excites the air molecules through which it passes, causing them to give off light.

According to NASA, the Orionids meteor shower gets its name because the meteors, or "shooting stars," look like they're coming out of part of the Constellation Orion.

How To See Orionid Meteor Shower:

Unlike the Draconid meteor shower earlier this month, which was washed out by a nearly-full moon, the moon this weekend will be only partially full, NASA said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Dan Malerbo, writing in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette notes that you'll have the most luck seeing meteors looking to the east before the moon rises at 1:30 a.m.

NASA gives instructions on finding the Orionid radiant:

It lies near the left shoulder of Orion the Hunter, roughly centered within an eye-catching triangle consisting of Sirius -- the brightest star in the sky -- and the giant planets Jupiter and Saturn. (These stars and planets are in the southeastern sky before dawn, as viewed from mid-northern latitudes.)

Don't stare directly at the radiant, say experienced meteor watchers. Orionids that appear there will seem short and stubby -- a result of foreshortening. Instead, look toward any dark region of the sky about 90 degrees away. You'll see just as many Orionids, but they will seem longer and more dramatic. The tails of all Orionid meteors, no matter where they appear, will point back toward the radiant in Orion.

According to Space.com, between 20 and 25 meteors per hour will be visible as a result of the meteor shower. And it doesn't matter if you're in the Northern or Southern hemisphere, as this is one of the few meteor showers that can be seen from both hemispheres.

"It's not going to knock your socks off this year, but if you are out in the desert or up in the mountains, it is certainly worth a look," Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, told the Los Angeles Times.

According to StarDate.org, there are two more meteor showers this year -- the Leonids on November 17 and the Geminids on December 13.

Check out some photos from past meteor showers in the slideshow below:

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  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JORGE GUERRERO. (Photo credit should read Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Perseids meteor shower is seen in the sky in the early hours of August 12, 2008 near the town of Sofia. The night between 12 August and 13 August is expected to be the peak of the Perseids meteor shower over the eastern sky, a meteor shower which comes every year, beginning in late July and stretching into August. AFP PHOTO / BORYANA KATSAROVA (Photo credit should read BORYANA KATSAROVA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteorite shower early August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. AFP PHOTO/ JORGE GUERRERO. (Photo credit should read Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor (L) from the Geminids meteor shower enters the Earth's atmosphere past the stars Castor and Pollux (two bright stars, R) on December 12, 2009 above Southold, New York. This meteor shower gets the name 'Geminids' because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into a stream of debris from the object every year in mid-December, causing the meteors. The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A meteor from the Geminids meteor shower (streak at top) enters the Earth's atmosphere on December 12, 2009 above Southold, New York. This meteor shower gets the name 'Geminids' because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into a stream of debris from the object every year in mid-December, causing the meteors. The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this Dec. 2009 picture provided by Wally Pacholka of AstroPics.com, a Geminid fireball explodes over the Mojave Desert in the Jojave Desert, Calif. on Dec. 13, 2009. In mid-December 2010, the Geminid meteor shower will make its annual appearance, just in time for Christmas. Astronomers consider it the best meteor shower of 2010, with more than 100 meteors streaking through the night sky every hour. (AP Photo/AstroPics.com, Wally Pacholka) MANDATORY CREDIT: ASTROPICS.COM, WALLY PACHOLKA; NO SALES; EDITORIAL USE ONLY IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE 2010 GEMINID METEOR SHOWER STORIES

  • A meteor is seen sparking along the Milky Way while entering the earth's atmosphere, during the Perseid meteor shower early Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in this long exposure picture taken on a mountain road just south of Macedonia's capital Skopje. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

  • A couple of stargazers observe as a meteor, center, sparks while entering the earth's atmosphere, during the Perseid meteor shower early Friday, Aug. 13, 2010, in this long exposure picture taken from a mountain just south of Macedonia's capital Skopje. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

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