It’s not about holes this time!
So, while I was up last night, or well, this morning, I went out on the balcony with Jessica. Usually we tend to see tiny, white, star-like floating objects which we’re not really sure what they are (I managed to film one a while back, maybe I’ll get it on the internet so someone can tell me what kind of a dummy I am for not realizing it was something like a plane), and this time we saw pretty many of them. I would try to explain it as some kind of aircraft, but they’re rather faint and tend to move rather quickly (faster than a plane) and over large areas of the sky before slowly fading away, and mostly their paths aren’t straight or so, but rather irregular.
Anyhow, that’s not really what I came on here to say. Most of you have heard of google maps, whether you’re a regular internet lurker or not, but there’s also Google Sky Maps, and I happen to have such a thing on my phone. What I really was trying to do was to confirm that this particularily bright object we’d spotted was in fact Uranus, but the app seemed to be mucking about a bit, however I did spot something just above Orion on the little screen.
I use this app quite frequently, but there was an entirely new icon which said “Orionids“, and I had absolutely no clue what it was.
Naturally I googled it.
And I found something quite astonishing. Not only have I an interest in fascinating sites on the surface of the planet, but I’m actually quite the space nerd as well.
I found that October is quite the month for watching meteor showers, and the Orionids are just that. You’ve likely heard about Holley’s Comet, it travels along it’s elliptical orbit around the sun and out towards the outer reaches of the solar system, a journey that takes 75,32 years. While close to the sun the heat releases gas and dust from the comet, and this is left behind as a trail of debris. Earth passes through this trail two times each year, and the debris entering the atmosphere causes shooting stars, or meteor showers. These occur in May and in October each year.
The showers start around October 2nd and carries on until November 11th, but peaks about October 19th to the 22nd. And you can see these meteor showers from anywhere on the planet.
They’re called Orionids simply because the radiant (the place in the sky where the meteors appear to originate from as you watch them from Earth) is between the constellations Orion and Gemini. While showers and the coming of comets around this time has been documented as early as 240 BC, it’s only recently (in 1705) that it’s been found that it’s actually the very same comet returning. The man who first discovered this was Edmund Halley, after whom the comet is named.
The last time Halley’s Comet passed by Earth was in 1986, and an armada of space probes were sent out to examine it more closely. The next time it will come passing by and once again become visible through the naked eye is in June 2062.
As the comet passed by in 1910 it caused a bit of mass hysteria as it was revealed through spectroscopy that the tail contained cyanide, and that the Earth was about to pass through it. Though the gas disperses fairly quickly and the low concentration of gas really didn't affect life on the planet at all.
What we can see of the meteors are really just them hitting the atmosphere and vaporising at 80 t0 120 km above ground, meteors that are big and/or compact enough to pass through the atmosphere and actually plunge into the surface of the planet are called meteorites, though I’m not sure if that has ever happened with debris from Halley’s comet.
Well, this year will be a so-so year for watching the meteor showers, as the moon will obscure a lot of the comets. But as well as a few comets you will also be able to see Mars somewhere about the constellation of Leo.
Aside from the Orionids though, you will also be able to see the Draconids on saturday evening (October 8th), usually this shower isn’t all too great, with only a few meteors per hour, but the canadian astronomer Paul Wiegert has predicted that this annual shower may actually turn into a meteor storm, with a thousand meteor visible per hour. It has happened before in 1933 and 1946, and also a few less impressive showers (still with hundreds of meteors per hour though) happened in 1952, 1985 and 1998.
In November there will also be Leonids (16th -18th), and Taurids (late October-early November). Specially the Leonids are known for causing huge meteor showers.
Orbit diagram for the inner solar system and Halley’s Comet; http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=1P;orb=1;cov=0#orb
All pictures in this post came from wikipedia.