By John Kerr 20/10/2017

Earth is passing through a cloud of comet debris and there’s good chance to catch meteors lighting up the New Zealand sky – weather permitting!

Kiwis will witness the peak of the annual Orionids meteor shower tonight – at least those who are committed to getting up early (or staying up late) and who have the luxury of a clear night. The shower is expected to peak tonight and early tomorrow morning (Saturday 20 October 2017). In previous years there have been as many as 80 meteors per hour at the height of the shower, although this year experts estimate that the rate of meteors will be at the lower end of the scale.


The Orionids are fragments left behind by Halley’s Comet. NASA

The Orionids shower treats spectators to an impressive display of shooting stars every year. The meteors are tiny chunks of rock and ice which broke away from the main body of Halley’s Comet as it passed close to the sun. As Earths orbit passes through this cloud of comet debris, these fragments burn up in our atmosphere leaving bright, fleeting scratches of light in the night sky.

The bright streaks of the shower will be most visible in the north-east of New Zealand skies. The website Time and Date has a great page which can tell you which way to look and how high at differing times of the early morning to get the best chance of catching a shooting star. But before you go setting your alarm to crazy o’clock, be sure to check how the weather is looking in your neck of the woods.

Writing in the Otago Daily Times, Otago Museum Director Ian Griffin says that with clear skies and from a site well away from city lights, it should be a pretty good show.

All you will need to enjoy the Orionids will be a comfortable deck chair and some blankets to protect you from the chilly spring temperatures.

Astronomers predict between 15 and 25 meteors per hour should be visible, which means, if the weather gods are kind, I’m hoping to feast my eyes on a gorgeous cosmic firework show.

And he already spotted some last night.

Featured image: UK Met Office / Twitter