Orionid meteor shower peaks this weekend; clear skies could mean a good view in NC

Orionid meteor shower.
Orionid meteor shower. File photo.

The annual Orionid meteor shower is expected to peak this weekend, and with clear skies in the forecast, much of North Carolina could have a good view.

Orionid meteors appear every year around this time, when Earth orbits through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet, according to NASA.

The shower normally produces 20 meteors per hour.

“Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, the source of the Orionids,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “Bits of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us a couple dozen of meteors per hour.”

The best time to look for the meteors is Friday or Saturday night or early Sunday morning before sunrise, when Earth will encounter the densest part of Halley’s debris stream.

If you’re patient and don’t mind sacrificing a little sleep, you could catch a good view of the shower. To see the meteors, set an alarm for a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up in the direction of the constellation of Orion the Hunter, where the meteors originate.

No telescope is necessary, but once you locate Orion, look past the constellation, since the meteors close to their point of origin will have shorter trails and will not be as visible.

Peak visibility is around 2 a.m., but make sure you’re away from city lights that will make spotting the meteors much more difficult.

The easiest way to spot Orion is to find the three bright stars close together in an almost-straight line, representing Orion’s belt. Two bright stars to the north represent Orion’s shoulders and the two to the south are his feet.

With a high pressure system building over central North Carolina this week and expected to stay in place for a while, along with dry air, skies should remain mostly clear until Sunday night, when there might be a slight chance of showers, according to a National Weather Center forecast on Wednesday.