Fragments of Halley’s Comet will fly across the sky this weekend as shooting stars

The Orionoid Shower is set to begin.
The Orionoid Shower is set to begin.
Image: AP Photo/Petar Petrov
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As Halley’s Comet continues its eternal processional through the solar system, it occasionally gives those of us who are Earthbound a pretty good show—and one of them, the Orionid Shower, is taking place this weekend (Oct. 20-21).

How to watch the Orionoid meteor shower

As the comet passes close to Earth—as it does every 75 to 76 years—rays from the Sun will hit it, blasting particles off that turn into meteoroids, which tumble into the Earth’s atmosphere and become so-called shooting stars as they hit speeds of about 148,000 mph (238,000 km/h). And because there are so many—about 20 will pass through the sky every hour—people all across the world with clear night skies will have a good chance of getting an unusually active space show.

It’s a predictable-but-rare event for people to witness an active meteoroid shower as Halley’s Comet passes through the solar system. And while this year won’t provide a clear view of the comet, it is close enough for the Earth’s gravitational pull to grab the comet’s meteoroids.

Astronomers say all people need is a clear sky and a spot as far from light pollution as they can get.

What is the Orionoid meteor shower?

The event has been called the Orionoid Shower because the meteoroids will appear to radiate from the constellation Orion, particularly its sword. But knowledge of the constellations won’t be necessary for the average viewer looking to catch a glimpse of shooting stars—which can be seen from anywhere.

Halley’s Comet—named after the English astronomer Edmond Halley—is perhaps the best-known comet on Earth. It may have been first observed by humans as early as 467 BC in Greece. The first for-sure appearance, though, was in 240 BC in China. Since then it has been noted in Babylonian tablets, Armenian coins, and by stargazers in Japan, Germany, the Byzantine empire, and more.

The last time Halley’s Comet whizzed by the Earth close enough to see with the naked eye was in 1986. Astronomers expect its next appearance will be in July 2061.