The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight & Friday
October 20, 2016

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From the 2011 Orionid meteor shower near Mount Shasta, California

There is something magical about seeing “shooting stars” and you’ll have your chance from midnight to dawn tonight and again tomorrow night October 21st and 22nd.  Don’t get your hopes up that the Orionids will be a spectacular showing though.  The end of the full moon, or the waning gibbous moon, will wash out the faintest meteors. If you can find a spot away from the city, you may see a maximum of 10 to 15 meteors per hour.

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Halley’s Comet is really far away but we are intersecting the comet’s orbit.

What’s really cool about the Orionids is the debris comes from the most famous of all comets, Halley.  Comet Halley’s last visit was in 1986 and will return again in 2061. The comet is no where around but this time every year the Earth intersects the comet’s orbit.

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They are called as the Orionids because they appear to fan out from the constellation Orion, The Hunter. These particles, or meteors, are about the size, shape and color of Grape Nuts Cereal. These tiny pieces of debris slam the top of the Earth’s atmosphere 80 miles up.  Each meteor hits the atmosphere at 37 miles per second, creating a hot streak of superheated air that you see on the ground as a streak of light.  They burn up, never reaching the surface of the Earth.  It is inaccurate to call them “shooting stars” because they are bits of rubble.

Meteors

You don’t need any special equipment, simply go outside with an open view and away from as many city lights as possible. Lay down on a blanket or a lawn chair is comfortable too.

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Perseid Meteor Shower
August 10, 2015

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Perseid in 2012, Photo by David Kingham, Wyoming

If you are an early riser or like to stay up really late, this is your week.  Beginning Tuesday morning you may be able to see as many as 50 meteors shooting through the sky.  It’s the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, and this year will be good.  One of the key factors is a dark sky and the waning crescent moon doesn’t come up until sunrise, so there will not be any additional light diminishing the view.

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To see the show, you need to be as far away as possible from the city lights.  The Perseids will come into view beginning at midnight and last through 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and you want to look northeast.  Tracing the paths of the meteors backward, you’ll find that they originate in front of the constellation Perseus.   If you have to pick a day, the best show should be Thursday morning before sunrise. That is the day of the new moon and the sky will be at its darkest.

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It takes your eyes 20 minutes to adjust to the night sky, so be patient if you don’t see anything right away.  You should give yourself at least an hour to watch.  Every year at this time our planet crosses the orbital path of the comet Swift-Tuttle.  The debris from this comet slams into our atmosphere at 130,000 mph and burns up creating tails of ionized gas.  What most people don’t know is these meteors are about the size of Grape Nuts cereal, and they are about the same color and texture too (see photo below).  It’s incredible to think that a meteor this bright comes from something this small.  None of these reach Earth’s surface, but sometimes a broken off piece of an asteroid will hit the Earth.  When that happens it is called a meteorite.

Meteors

Planetary Conjunction
June 29, 2015

A really cool sight will be visible in the skies Tuesday evening. It’s called a planetary conjunction and this one will feature our two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter. The planets will be within 1/3 of a degree of each other, appearing as one large bright star. This is also called, “The Star of Bethlehem” conjunction because Jupiter, Venus and the star Regulus (which is the star to the left) were all within 1/100 of a degree of each other in the year 3/2 BC. Many astronomers believe this is the celestial event that showed the way to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

This will be visible at sunset Tuesday, which is at 8:09 p.m. in Los Angeles. It will be low on the horizon when you look west and will only be visible for about an hour to an hour and a half. The key will be the cloud cover, and there will be some clouds around. Hopefully there is clearing for your viewing.

My friends in Albuquerque and Houston won’t be left out! Look toward the west at sunset, which is at 8:25 and 8:26 p.m.

If you snap a photo of it, please share it on my Facebook page or tag @AnthonyNBCLA in a tweet.