Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Beautiful" Orionids meteor shower to peak early Sunday

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Clear skies overhead on Sunday will set the stage for some celestrial fireworks thanks in part to Halley's Comet.

The Orionid meteor shower will create nearly 25 shooting stars during the predawn hours of October 21 as Earth's orbit flies into dust particles of the tail of Halley's Comet.

NASA experts suggest the best viewing time is a few hours before sunrise.

"It is one of the most beautiful showers of the year," states NASA's meteor chief Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office. "Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour."

The moon will set early on Saturday night setting the stage for a dark night sky.

Cooke offers a few viewing tips to watching the celestrial show, "Go outside one to two hours before sunrise, when the sky is dark and the constellation Orion is high overhead."

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer Mitzi Adams suggests bringing a blanket or reclining chair and some hot chocolate to enjoy the show.

Cooke adds that over the last five years, "the Orionids have been one of the best meteor showers of the year, with counts in some years up to sixty or more meteors per hour."

Adams will host a live Web Chat on NASA's Ustream feed with commentary on the Orionid meteor shower beginning at 11:00 p.m. EDT, on Saturday and running through peak time at 3:00 a.m.

A live NASA camera of the night sky will also air as Adams answers viewer's questions.

Speeding at some 148,000 m.p.h., Cooke notes that the faster a meteor is the more likely it will be to explode causing a bright flash.

The space agency will also have a series of cameras trained on the night sky to capture the shooting stars.

The cameras are operated by Marshall Space Flight Center and are known as the Fireball Cameras. Several of these cameras create a network for observation, and includes one located atop the Tellus Science Museum in northwest Atlanta.

"NASA's Fireball Camera is light sensitive and will begin recording the night sky for meteors after the Sun goes down," explains Tellus' marketing director Joe Schulman. "If anything goes over, we'll capture it."

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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