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How To See The Orionid Meteor Shower In The D.C. Area

A faint streak can be observed below Orion's Belt in this photo from of the Orionids from 2009.
Demetri Mouratis: http://www.flickr.com/photos/18203847@N00/4032812246
A faint streak can be observed below Orion's Belt in this photo from of the Orionids from 2009.

Source: AlltheSky.com

The Orionid meteors should appear to above and to the left of the red supergiant Betelgeuse.

Has the government shutdown tightened up your entertainment budget? The Orionid meteor shower, which begins next week, might be just the show you're looking for.

The peak for the meteor shower is between Oct. 20-23. Elizabeth Warner with the University of Maryland Observatory says the best time to catch a glimpse is usually after midnight and into the morning hours.

"The peak is supposed to be on Sunday night, Monday morning, but on the days before and after, you’re always going to see a few," Warner says.

The Orionid meteor shower is caused by a stream of debris left behind from the passing of Halley's Comet. As the chunks of space rock enter Earth's atmosphere, air resistance causes them to heat up. When you see a "shooting star," you're actually seeing light from the superheated air as the meteor passes through.

The radiant point, or the spot in the sky from which the meteors will seem to appear, is just above and to the left of the constellation Orion, for which the meteor shower gets its name. Warner says this phenomenon is only an optical illusion, likening the space debris to drops of rain seen from a moving car.

"When it's raining, it generally comes straight down. However, if you start driving really fast in the rain, it kind of looks like the rain is coming at you from a point ahead of you," she says. "In the early evening hours, we're effectively looking out the back windshield, but in the early morning hours we're looking out the front windshield, and it looks like the shooting stars are coming from the constellation in that direction."

Many of the fainter shooting stars are going to be overpowered by the brightness of the waning gibbous moon on Sunday night. For those that can't afford to escape the city lights, there's actually a silver lining there.

"This year, because the moon is in the way, the moon is going to overwhelm any light pollution anyway," Warner says.

There are options for those who want to take their stargazing experience up a notch. Warner says dark skies can be found within a few hours' drive along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah, Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick, Md., or the Eastern Shore.

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