Written by CNN Staff
Through Monday night, the first signs of the 2019 Orionid meteor shower will peak, revealing the brightest and most colorful display of the year for amateur skywatchers.
The super bright shooting stars show up every year between December 21 and 23 on the night before New Year’s Day. While a similar display occurs in October every year, this is the last time the 2018-2019 phase lasts into the new year before the skies darken and the winter solstice arrives, which will begin an hour later this year.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re in a dark location — but safe in public, don’t go anywhere where lightning strikes could hit — you can get a good view of these odd brilliant flashes.
The Orionids are an annual event linked to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. While all of the planets do orbit the sun in a roughly oval pattern — Uranus, in particular, is sometimes called a “pocket planet” — planets are also part of the solar system’s main disk, roughly 90 percent. So Earth’s orbit carries the whole of our solar system into orbit around the sun.
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The most striking feature of the Orionids is that the Earth passes through the dusty debris of Halley’s Comet on the same night each year. It’s the dust from Halley’s comet — which had been last seen by the Earth nearly 75 years ago — that causes the shooting stars.
These are dust particles the size of sand grains which left the comet after its travels. The Earth’s path through this debris trail takes us across the skies of the northern and southern hemispheres, where the colder temperatures help the dust from the comet get very cold and more concentrated. So when the dust streams through the Earth’s atmosphere at around 150 miles per second (240 km/s), the particles can catch the light.
The “shooting stars” that are observed will appear to come from the constellation Orion, which is in the upper right of the sky. You’ll also see meteor trails of debris at the dark end of the night sky, the outskirts of the constellation Cassiopeia. This trail of dust is known as “snow.”
Be sure to take a look at some of these images of the Orionids , below, in the gallery: