The annual night sky treat of the Orionid meteor shower peaks this weekend over Iowa. Steve Kawaler, an astronomy professor at Iowa State University, says if the clouds cooperate by not covering the view, Iowans should see between 20 and 40 streaking specks of light every hour.
Kawaler says “The Orionid meteor shower is one of several showers we have during the year when the Earth passes through the tail of an old comet. If you have a nice dark sky and if you’re observing after midnight and looking more or less anywhere up, you’ll see many, many more meteors than you would see otherwise.” Unlike with some celestial observances, he says you won’t have to look in a particular spot in the sky or compass direction to see the shooting stars.
Kawaler says “Generally if you look up, and not down at your feet or at the person next to you, you’ll see them. The idea is to get as much of the sky in view as possible. The meteors will all seem to radiate from one place in space but the farther you are away from that point in the sky, the longer the meteor trail you will see.” Some kids or sky-watching newbies wonder if, with all of these red-hot rocks falling from above, they might be at risk for getting bonked on the head.
Kawaler says “Not from these things, no. More danger from critters crawling on the ground but we’ve had a freeze or two so that might not be much of a problem either. All of these meteors or meteorites that are producing these flashes are tiny. They’re about the size of a pea. Maybe the largest one is the size of a walnut and they’re burning up in the sky about 60 miles over your head so there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”
The shooting stars should be visible every minute or two, traveling at a speed of roughly 40-miles per second.