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Orionids 2011: How To See The Meteor Shower

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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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