Meteors to brighten October’s night skies

A meteor flashes in the night sky over Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Two meteor showers are set to peak this month, according to the American Meteor Society.

Nature’s fireworks may burst into view for astronomers this month. October is a fruitful month for meteor showers, when the number of meteors that streak through the skies increases. Two showers peak in October, the Draconids on Oct. 8 and the Orionids on Oct. 21, according to the American Meteor Society. Another, the Southern Taurids, is active in late October but may peak in early November. The Orionids are the most exciting of the month’s showers to astronomers because of the chance of seeing a high number of meteors — 15 per hour at a velocity of 41 miles per second, according to NASA — and decent conditions for viewing. Charlie Eggert, a member of The Villages Photography Club, is planning to travel to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to photograph the Orionids.

He said it would be his first time visiting a Dark Sky Place in Florida, which is a location designated by the International Dark Sky Association for preserving a natural night sky.

But meteors weren’t the first thing on his mind when he planned the trip.

“I booked it to shoot the Milky Way,” said Eggert, of the Village of Bridgeport at Miona Shores. “But it also happens to be the peak day for the Orionids, so it was a happy coincidence.”

The appeal of meteors comes from the spectacular sight of the light streaking across the sky, said Bob Lunsford of the American Meteor Society.

Some call meteors shooting stars. Lunsford likes to call them nature’s fireworks.

“Like most kids, I’ve always liked fireworks,” he said. “And one night in 1966 I saw on the news there might be an intense meteor shower. I got up in the middle of the night and saw it. I thought, ‘Wow, I want to see more of those.’”

Viewing meteors also draws interest because it doesn’t require the equipment needed to view distant stars and planets.

Telescope viewing isn’t favorable for meteor showers because they actually limit the ability to see them, said Doug Landmann, a member of The Villages Astronomy Club.

If any equipment beyond the naked eye is necessary, binoculars work better, he said.

Landmann, of the Village of Sabal Chase, has tried viewing and photographing the Perseids in the past. That shower peaks in August and is considered one of the best of the meteor showers.

“They make for very spectacular viewing,” he said. “But you need dark, clear skies.”

Meteor showers get their names from the constellations where the meteors come from.

The Draconids, which originate from Draco the Dragon, are caused when Earth collides with debris shed by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, according to NASA. The comet is the namesake of the shower’s alternate name, the Giacobinids.

The Orionids are radiant to the north of Orion’s bright star Betelgeuse and come from the Earth’s collision with debris from Halley’s Comet, according to NASA.

And the Southern Taurids, which come from Taurus, occur when Earth passes debris from Comet Encke, according to NASA.

Both the Draconids and the Southern Taurids are not always strong, but they have the ability to put on a show if the conditions are right for it, according to NASA.

October’s burst of meteor activity is a warmup for a marquee event later in the year.

Astronomers are most excited about the Geminids, which peak in mid-December. During this shower it’s possible to view up to 200 meteors per hour, and low moon visibility is forecast for this year’s occurrence, Lunsford said.

“It will be the most intense shower of the year,” he said.

Eggert, who earlier this year photographed the Lyrid meteor shower from Palmer Legends Country Club, is excited for the upcoming showers.

“When you can catch them with a lot of meteors in the sky, they are quite dramatic,” he said.

Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.