This weekend, the earth will be slamming head on into a cometary debris field.
There’s no cause for alarm, though. This happens several times every year, and the result is a spectacular show for all who look skyward.
The Orionid Meteor Shower will reach its peak this year between Friday, Oct. 20 and Sunday, Oct. 22, Space.com reports.
During the peak of the shower, in optimal viewing conditions, people will be able to see up to 20 meteors an hour streak through the sky, according to Sean Brittain, professor of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University.
The number seen can vary based on conditions, though, said Brittain. Light pollution can spoil the view, and so can a full moon. Fortunately, there are plenty of spots around Beaufort County to avoid city lights, and this year’s shower will reach its peak with the moon as only a slim crescent, so if clouds cooperate Beaufort County residents should be able to get a nice look at the celestial event.
For the best view, though, you might have to sacrifice a little sleep.
“You’re going to want to be out in the very early morning,” said Brittain. “Around 3 or 4 a.m. will be best.”
This is because the Orionids originate in the constellation Orion, near its sword, and Orion reaches its peak in the sky in the early morning. The shower takes its name from the constellation.
The meteors seen this weekend will only appear to be coming from Orion, though. In reality, their source is something far closer and just as well known.
“This is debris that is left over by previous passes of Halley’s Comet,” said Brittain. “It comes by roughly every 80 years and when it does it leaves this debris field for us to pass through.”
Earth is not in any increased danger from the shower according to Brittain, as most of what collides with the atmosphere will be between the size of a golf ball and a baseball, and will burn up harmlessly as it puts on a light show for onlookers. For something to reach the ground it needs to be substantially larger.
While the Orionids and similar showers make for a dazzling and noteworthy display, the earth is actually under constant bombardment from debris, much of it too small for us to notice. In fact, every day, roughly 60 tons of cosmic dust falls to earth, according to Brittain.
If you miss the Orionids, there are two notable meteor showers left in 2017 according to Space.com.
The Leonid Meteor Shower will peak on Friday, Nov. 17.
The Geminid Meteor Shower will peak on Wednesday, Dec. 13 and Thursday, Dec. 14.