The Orionid meteor shower is going to peak this year late on Saturday night / early Sunday morning, October 20-21 2012. The peak of the display will be a few hours before dawn Sunday — that’s when the Earth will hit the densest part of the debris left behind by Halley’s comet.
“Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour,” Bill Cooke, head of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a statement.
Saturday will be only five days removed from the new moon, so the sky should be pretty dark, allowing for good viewing. The meteors will appear to be coming from the south-eastern region of the night’s sky.
“Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts of 60 or more meteors per hour,” Cooke said.
The Orionids are named after the constellation Orion, because that’s the area of the sky that they appear to originate from, right next to the star Betelgeuse in the south-eastern sky.
Historically, they have long been an impressive display. But, within just the past five years, they have become even more so, now being one of the best meteor showers of the year.
Some more background on the Orionids from Wikipedia:
“The Orionid meteor shower, usually shortened to the Orionids, is the most prolific meteor shower associated with Halley’s Comet. The Orionids are so-called because the point they appear to come from, called the radiant, lies in the constellation Orion. Orionids are an annual meteor shower which last approximately one week in late-October. In some years, meteors may occur at rates of 50-70 per hour.
“Meteor showers first designated ‘shooting stars’ were connected to comets in the 1800s. E.C. Herrick made an observation in 1839 and 1840 about the activity present in the October night skies. However A.S. Herschel produced the first documented record which produced accurate forecasts for the next meteor shower. The Orionid meteor shower is produced by the well-known Halley’s Comet, which was named after the astronomer Edmund Halley and last passed through the inner solar system in 1986 on its 75-to-76-year orbit. When the comet passes through the solar system, the sun sublimates some of the ice which allows rock particles to break away from the comet. These particles continue on the comet’s trajectory and appear as meteors or ‘falling stars’ when they pass through Earth’s upper atmosphere. Halley’s comet is also responsible for creating the Eta Aquariids which occur annually in May.”