Watch Halley’s Comet Makes Its Presence Known As Meteor Shower Rages: The Naked Eye Night Sky This Week
Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: October 17-23, 2022
Is Halley’s comet back? No, that won’t happen until the year 2061, but you’ll be able to glimpse its celestial exhaust this week as the Orionid meteor shower peaks. Earth will this week move through streams of particles left by the massive comet that has since drifted into its orbital path. It could be one of the best meteor showers of 2022 because it’s one of the few to occur during dark, moonless night skies.
Here’s what’s going on in the night sky this week:
Monday, October 17, 2022: Last Quarter Moon in Gemini
Tonight our natural satellite will reach its Last Quarter phase. Practically that means that the Moon will rise after midnight, clearing the way for 10 successive nights of dark, moonlight-free skies.
It will rise just after midnight tonight and shine beneath the two brightest stars in Gemini, Castor (top) and Pollux (bottom).
Friday, October 21, 2022: Orionid meteor shower
From about 21:00 tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow is the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. So keep your eyes peeled (no binoculars or telescope necessary) for its 10-20 “shooting stars” per hour, which should be visible in dark moonless skies since the waning crescent Moon will be just 17%-lit and rise about 3:30 a.m. The view should be best after midnight.
The Orionid meteor shower is caused by dust and debris being left in the inner Solar System by none other than Halley’s Comet. Although they can appear from anywhere the radiant point for the meteors is the constellation of Orion—and specifically the red supergiant star Betelgeuse.
Saturday, October 22, 2022: Venus behind the Sun
Having been around as a bright “Morning Star” for most of 2022, Earth’s “sister planet” Venus today passes around the far side of the Sun.
In the next few months it will emerge into the evening sky and brighten as the distance us and Venus decreases. Cue an entirely predictable jump in UFO sightings (no kidding!).
Object of the week: Meteors and ‘shooting stars’
“Shooting stars” are caused when particles mostly smaller than a grain of sand hit Earth’s atmosphere. As they do they energise and glow for a millisecond as they discharge that energy as photons.
The key to seeing as many “shooting stars” as possible is to look at the night sky, and keep looking. No browsing on your smartphone! As well as distracting you its white light will instantly kill your night vision. Although you can look anywhere in the night sky because meteors can appear anywhere, the display will be best when the radiant point—the point on Earth’s atmosphere that’s colliding with the densest part of the meteor stream—is high in the sky. In this case that’s the bright constellation or Orion, “the hunter,” hence the name. That happens in the small hours after midnight.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.