Orionid meteors: how to see this weekend’s spectacle (Storm Brian permitting)

A Perseid meteor
A Perseid meteor

This weekend, much of Britain is set to be lashed by wind and rain, as Storm Brian makes its way over the county.

Things might be more peaceful above the clouds however.

Gaze upwards and – if there’s a break in the cloud – you’ll be treated to up to 70 shooting stars an hour as the Earth intersects the orbit of Halley’s Comet.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Orionid meteor shower:

What are the Orionids?

The Orionid Meteor shower is caused by dust from the tail of Halley’s Comet burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere nearly 60 miles above our heads.

We haven’t seen the comet itself since 1986, but our planet passes through its orbit twice a year, bringing the Orionids in October, and the Eta Aquarids in May.

They are so-called because they appear to originate in the same part of the sky as the constellation Orion.

When is the best time to see them?

The meteors have actually been visible in the night sky from around October 16, but they peak in intensity this weekend on the evening of October 21.

For the best results, you might want to stay up a little later: the prime viewing time is recommended as between midnight and dawn, and getting yourself to as dark a location as possible will increase your chances of spotting an Orionid.

Unlike last year, which coincided with a bright moon, a new moon just a few days ago means the sky will be mostly clear of celestial light pollution.

Do I need a telescope?

Thankfully, budding stargazers need’nt splash out on expensive tech to see the Orionids; they will be visible with the naked eye.

You may need some patience though. In the past the shower has brought us up to 70 shooting stars an hour, but an average shower brings just 25 in a 60-minute window.

That equates to roughly one shooting star every two and a half minutes, so it’s best to get comfortable. You’ll also need to be alert, with the shooting stars zipping across the sky at an incredible 148,000 miles an hour.

When will the next meteor shower be?

Don’t worry too much if you don’t get outside or Storm Brian is wreaking havoc where you live. The next meteor shower visible from the UK will be the Leonids, reaching their peak across the evenings of November 17 and 18.

If you’re after the Orionids specifically, however, you’ll have to wait until October 21 of next year.