[meteorite-list] Weekend Meteor Shower (Orionids)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2011 10:19:42 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201110211719.p9LHJgPS017786_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Weekend Meteor Shower
NASA Science News
Oct 20, 2011

Earth is about to pass through a stream of debris from
Halley's comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters
expect more than 15 meteors per hour to fly across the sky on Saturday
morning, Oct. 22nd, when the shower peaks.

Orionids are most easily seen during the dark hours before sunrise.
Twilight Orionids, however, are the most beautiful of all.

"Although this isn't the biggest meteor shower of the year, it's
definitely worth waking up for," says Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid
Environment Office. "The setting is dynamite."

Orionids are framed by some of the brightest and most beautiful
constellations in the night sky. The meteors emerge from mighty Orion,
the shower's glittering namesake. From there they streak through Taurus
the Bull, the twins of Gemini, Leo the Lion, and Canis Major--home to
Sirius, the most brilliant star of all.

This year, the Moon and Mars are part of the show. They'll form two
vertices of a celestial triangle in
the eastern sky on Saturday morning while the shower is most active;
Regulus is the third vertex. Blue Regulus and red Mars are both
approximately of 1st magnitude, so they are easy to see alongside the
35% crescent Moon. Many Orionids will be diving through the triangle in
the hours before dawn.

Cooke's team at the Meteoroid Environment Office will be watching for
Orionids that actually hit the Moon.

Cometary debris streams like Halley's are so wide, the whole Earth-Moon
system fits inside. So when there is a meteor shower on Earth, there's
usually one on the Moon, too. Unlike Earth, however, the Moon has no
atmosphere to intercept meteoroids. Pieces of debris fall all the way
to the surface and explode where they hit. Flashes of light caused by
thermal heating of lunar rocks and moondust are so bright, they can
sometimes be seen through backyard-class telescopes.

"Since we began our monitoring program in 2005, our group has detected
more than 250 lunar meteors," says Cooke. "Some explode with energies
exceeding hundreds of pounds of TNT."

So far, they've seen 15 Orionids hitting the Moon--"two in 2007, four in
2008, and nine in 2009," recalls Cooke. This year they hope to add to
the haul. About 25% of the Moon's dark terrain will be exposed to
Halley's debris stream, giving the team millions of square miles to scan
for explosions.

Watching meteoroids hit the Moon is a good way to learn about the
structure of comet debris streams and the energy of the particles
therein. It also allows Cooke and colleagues to calculate risk factors
for astronauts who, someday, will walk on the lunar surface again.

"Going outside to watch the Orionids might not be a good idea for a
moonwalker," says Cooke.

But it is a good idea for the rest of us. Set your alarm for a few
hours before dawn on Saturday morning and enjoy the show.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips
Credit: Science at NASA
Received on Fri 21 Oct 2011 01:19:42 PM PDT

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