Speedy Orionids Battle the Moon for Sky Domination
Weathercasters had predicted cloudy skies tonight in Western Montana, leading night sky observers to cancel plans for looking up at two different events in the dark - the Full Moon and the Orionids meteor shower. The clouds don't seem to be as numerous as expected, however.
Actually, the meteor shower was already trending low on the viewing list, even though tonight is the peak of the shooting stars. The Full Moon is expected to "wash out" most of the dim streaks of light, leaving only the larger meteors visible to those of us on the ground. And, when a meteor shower can (at times) have only occasional shooting stars through each hour, an observer can lose interest or simply fall asleep.
However, star parties can get the excitement level up. For instance, in Hamilton the Bitterroot Public Library is having an Observe the Moon Night from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., which includes some Earth-based activities, information from local astronomers and the use of the library's new telescope. We're pretty sure they'll mention the meteors, too.
The moon rises fairly early and will be center stage for the Hamilton library event at State and South 3rd Streets. The meteor shower will be most visible much later - after midnight into the early morning. The moon will still be there, but will be heading toward the western horizon instead of right in the middle of the sky.
The name of this month's moon is the Hunter's Moon, which coincides with the opening of Montana's general hunting season. The moon was officially "full" about mid-day today, but it looks pretty full a few hours later.
The Orionid meteor shower is made up of little bits of rock left over from the passing of Halley's Comet, which comes through Earth's orbit every 76 years. Earth passes through the debris field and the little grains of sand hit the atmosphere at an incredible speed, causing the brilliant streaks. Again, they're most visible after midnight, when that part of the Earth is facing the debris path. By the way, the next meteor shower is in November - the Leonids peak is November 15-17, and the moon is in the way again.