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Orionid meteor shower peaks this week — will the Bay Area get a good view?

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 10/17/2021 By Gwendolyn Wu
The sun sets at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in San Jose in August 2010. © John Sebastian Russo/The Chronicle

The sun sets at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in San Jose in August 2010.

Another cosmic light show is on tap this week in the Bay Area — though several factors are converging to make viewing dicey.

The Orionid meteor shower starts late Wednesday and peaks early Thursday, coinciding with the full moon and a likely midweek rainy system in the Bay Area, according to the National Weather Service. Bright moonlight could dim the view, and clouds could obscure it.

“The middle of the week is not too promising,” said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

But there is hope if the cloud cover clears up before dawn Thursday.

Named because the meteor shower appears to fall from the upraised club of the constellation Orion, Orionids leave consistent trails behind them. They fall quickly, at around 41 mph, according to EarthSky.

Orion first becomes visible around 11 p.m., but the best hour to sneak a glimpse of the meteors is between 5 and 6 a.m. on Thursday, just before sunrise.

“Your average Orionids last about a half-second each and it’s very easy to miss them,” said Robert Lunsford, the fireball report coordinator for the American Meteor Society.

For a better viewing experience, sit or lie down far away from a street lamp, and keep your phone screen off so your eyes adjust to the darkness of the night sky.

If possible, move to a higher elevation during the peak of the shower to get above any smog and haze hovering at sea level. The change in air quality will allow Orionid viewers to see more, Lunsford said.

Most of the meteors during this shower fall in clumps. To maximize the chance of seeing one, plan to stay outside for as long as possible, because spending just 10 minutes looking up at the sky may not be enough.

The meteors streaking across the night sky are bits of debris from Halley’s Comet colliding with the Earth, according to Farmers Almanac.

If you spot a meteor streaking across the sky that’s brighter than Venus, it may be a fireball, a particularly bright and rarer occurrence.

However, “Don’t walk outside and stand and expect to see a lot of activity,” Lunsford said. “You need to get comfortable and stay warm, so I would suggest jumping in a nice lounge chair and watching the sky as long as you can.”

This year’s Orionids coincided with the weaker Draconids, which peaked earlier this month. Still to peak this year are the Taurids and Leonids in November, and the Geminids — one of the best showers visible in the Northern Hemisphere — in December, according to EarthSky.

As for Halley’s Comet itself, it’s not due to swing by Earth again till 2061, according to Farmer’s Almanac.

Gwendolyn Wu is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:


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