Good news, Alaskan skywatchers: Clear skies over much of the state should make for ideal (if chilly) conditions to watch as Earth passes through the tail of Halley's Comet, delivering the annual Orionid meteor shower.
Orionid will peak for 2012 this weekend, giving Earthlings a show of shooting fireballs in the late-autumn darkness early Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Orionid has been wowing Northern Hemisphere skywatchers for nearly 200 years, according to astronomy news organization EarthSky, with recorded increases in heavenly meteor activity around the second week of October each year since 1839.
Across Alaska, folks should be able to look up and observe at least 25 falling stars per hour in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday morning. And a waxing crescent moon may further optimize the night skies over North America, giving us enough darkness to see the meteors well, according to the NASA Meteorid Environment Office.
Here's a little background on the annual meteor shower, according to various sources:
- The name for the Orionid meteor shower may originate from the constellation known in the Northern Hemisphere as Orion the Hunter.
- The "radiant point" of the Orionid meteor shower comes from -- wait for it -- the Orion constellation. So look for Orion to get the best view of shooting fireballs.
- Meteors of the Orionid shower shoot across the night sky at an average speed of approximately 147,638 mph.
- Meteor showers "occur" in the sky when Earth travels through outer space dust and debris.
- Shooting stars are actually particles of space rocks and dust burning up as they enter Earth's atmosphere.
- Don't know how to find constellations? There's an app for that! Download Google Sky Map for your Android smartphone.
The National Weather Service is forecasting clear and cold weather for Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, over the weekend. Mostly clear weather with possible cloud cover is predicted north into the Matanuska Valley, to Palmer and Wasilla. Farther north, into the Interior, cloud cover may prevent folks in Fairbanks and across the Tanana Valley from checking out the show, meteorologists predicted Friday.
Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com