The 2012 Orionid meteor shower peaks on the night of Oct. 20-21, and that night's almost-new moon favors a good show. The moon's absence from the pre-dawn sky during the Orionids' peak also means that bright moonlight won't be a problem.
In addition to Orionids, viewers will see brilliant Venus, red Mars, the dog star Sirius and bright winter constellations such as Orion, Gemini and Taurus. Even if you don't spy a meteor, the rest of the sky is dynamite.
Set the alarm, brew some hot chocolate and plan to enjoy the show with Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. They'll be answering questions via live Web chat on Saturday, Oct. 20 from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. EDT.
Orionids appear every year around this time when Earth orbits through an area of space littered with debris from the ancient comet. Normally, the shower produces 20 or so meteors per hour. The past few years, however, have been much better than usual.
"Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, the source of the Orionids," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour."
The best time to look is before sunrise on Sunday, Oct. 21. That's when Earth encounters the most dense part of Halley's debris stream. Observing is easy: wake up a few hours before dawn, go outside and look up. No telescope is required to see Orionids shooting across the sky.
"Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts in some years up to 60 or more meteors per hour," says Cooke.