“Waaaooow, did you see that beast? An amazing long tail with sparkles coming off it!?” — a typical response from someone who’s spotted an Orionid meteor!
The Orionids meteor shower is a lovely autumnal meteor shower that produces fast-moving fireballs and shooting stars with long, elegant tails.
If the bright Moon stays out of the way (i.e. it’s not visible in the sky), this shower can be a visual feast for sky gazers.
You can spot Orionids meteors anywhere in the UK. However, they are best viewed from a dark sky location away from light pollution.
What causes the Orionids Meteor Shower?
The cause of the Orionids is the leftovers of Comet 1P/Halley, better known as Halley’s Comet. As the famous comet swings by Earth every 75 to 76 years, it leaves minute particles of dust and ice, about the size of a grain of sand.
The Earth’s orbit crosses the debris, and as the particles come out of the vacuum of space and wallop our atmosphere at tremendous speeds, they become heated by friction. They leave a streak on the sky, and on the ground, we get OOOOOs and AAAAAHs from delighted sky gazers.
How to see the Orionids Meteors
The Orionids meteors can be spotted above UK skies from early October to early November, reaching their peak on the 21st of October. Just look up, and you could catch one by chance – they can appear anywhere in the sky but can all be traced back to the constellation of Orion.
You don’t need any specialist equipment, telescopes or binoculars, just your eyesight and patience, although you could try capturing some on your smartphone or with a camera. Remember to check the weather forecast before you set off anywhere!
The numbers of Orionids have been relatively modest in recent years. Sometimes this showy autumnal display can produce up to 80 meteors an hour. Lately, it’s been more like 20 or 30 visible meteors per hour.
Why is it called the Orionids meteor shower?
The Orionids get their name as they appear to come from the constellation of Orion – known as the radiant.
As gorgeous as the Orion constellation is, the best place to spot them is 45 to 90 degrees away. When looking towards the radiant, the meteor trails appear short and stubby – a perspective effect called foreshortening. By looking away from the constellation, the meteor trails will look longer and more spectacular.
How to see the Orionids in October 2021
Shooting stars are tricky to see even on the most perfectly dark, moon-free nights. Unfortunately, in 2021 when they will be at their peak of activity, a Full Moon (Hunter’s Moon) will be present in the sky.
At the peak this year, the full Moon’s light will wash out the skies, meaning only the brightest meteors will be visible. Therefore, don’t expect a fantastic display. However, they are still very much worth looking out for.
One benefit of the Hunter’s Moon: at least Orion will have his path lit as he stalks across the sky. At his left foot is his faithful dog, Sirius – the twinkling Dog Star is the brightest in the sky, and no full moon would ever wash out its brilliance.
Where are the best places to see the Orionids meteor shower in the UK?
We recommend rugging up and heading away from the bright city lights to a park or country lane. Fill your flask with hot chocolate and put on plenty of layers. Wherever you go, you will need an unobstructed open view of the skies above so you can see as much sky as possible.
As for specific locations, first, check our Dark Sky Calendar to see if there will be a bright moon. If not, you could head to your nearest Dark Sky Reserve or Dark Sky Site, otherwise check our location map for more suggestions.
Are there any organised events to see the Orionids meteor shower?
Below is a list of public stargazing events taking place around the peak of the Orionids meteor shower. Some venues and organisations may specifically organise events to view the meteor shower; others may encompass scheduled astronomy society or club meetings that happen to coincide. You may also find charity fundraisers, sleepovers, BBQs and events at independent venues.
Stargazing at Wembury Beach
Wednesday 20th October 2021 from 20:30pm to Thursday 21st October 2021 00:00am
Wembury Beach Car Park, Plymouth, PL9 0HP
Stargazing Experience at Camp Katur Glamping
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 16:00pm to 23:00pm
Camp Katur Glamping, Kirklington, DL8 2LS
Magical mystery twilight walk
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 18:00pm to 21:00pm
Kilburn White Horse Car Park, Kilburn, YO61 4AN
Stargazing at Beachy Head with Eastbourne Astronomical Society
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 18:00pm to 20:00pm
Beachy Head Story Centre, Eastbourne, BN20 7YA
Heaton Park Astronomy Group meeting and observing
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 19:00pm to 21:00pm
Heaton Park Bowls Pavilion - Prestwich, Prestwich, M25 2GT
Thanet Observatory Re-opening Evening
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 19:00pm to 22:00pm
Thanet Observatory (closed), Monkton, CT12 4LH
Isle of Wight Observatory public open night
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 19:30pm to 22:00pm
The Isle of Wight Observatory, Newchurch, PO36 0LX
Torbay Astronomical Society meeting
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 19:30pm to 21:30pm
Torquay Boys Grammar School & Observatory, Torquay, TQ2 7EL
Loughton Astronomical Society meeting & observing
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 20:00pm to 22:00pm
Theydon Bois Scout Hall, Epping, CM16 7EJ
Practical Astronomy with Nottingham Astronomical Society
Thursday 21st October 2021 from 20:00pm to 22:00pm
Burnside Hall - Plumtree, Nottingham, NG12 5ND
Local astronomy clubs and societies
Some astronomy clubs and observatories host public events. If you’re not involved in your local society, autumn is a great time to join. As the nights lengthen and public meetings resume again, astronomical clubs are returning to life. Your local astronomy group will be delighted to see you – even if you do not know about astronomy whatsoever.
Last winter, we were all locked down, so the excitement of public stargazing meetings will be amplified further as we get back together again. Astronomy clubs are an excellent way to boost your social circle and to mingle with some of the brightest brains on this side of Betelgeuse.
Find your local astronomy club on the Federation of Astronomical Societies website.