Meteor Shower 2012: Saturday Night Meteor Shower Lights Up the Sky


Big plans for Saturday night? Cancel them. Find a rooftop, get a party started, look east, and watch bits of Halley's Comet explode in our atmosphere. It's the annual Orionid meteor shower. 

Between 10 p.m. EST Saturday and 6 a.m. Sunday hundreds of "shooting stars" will explode in the eastern sky near the constellation Orion, at an average rate of about 25 per hour. That's one shooting star every two minutes, all night. How could you sleep through this?

Shooting stars are meteoroids, bits of a comet that fall into the Earth's gravitational pull and eventually crash into the atmosphere at 148,000 mph. There they explode, which for us on the ground looks like a streak of light. This particular meteor shower tends to leave incandescent light trails that linger for a few minutes. (I learned this from the European Fireball Network, which is an organization that collects meteor shower data, and is the single greatest thing I have ever looked up on Wikipedia).

The best thing about the Orionid Shower is that you cannot miss it if you are outside Saturday night. You don't have to drive to a farm or an observatory, (although you could go to one of the hundreds of late-night astronomy parties that held across the country) and you don't need a telescope, or even binoculars. You can watch it from the street, with your normal eyes, drink in hand. Or, if you don't have a hangover from an astronomy party, you could wake up pre-dawn Sunday and catch it while walking the dog.

We should jump at the opportunity to connect with our planet as a part of a solar system, especially since it will be beautiful and easy to do.