What can be bright, appears late at night, and is better than usual this year? If you guessed Jimmy Kimmel, I'm sure he's flattered, but that's not where I was going.
I'm talking shooting stars, not comedic ones. And these will be blazing across the dark skies of metro Detroit under mostly clear skies this weekend.
The Orionid meteor shower will be better than most years because there'll be almost no moonlight this weekend as it peaks, and because our skies both tonight and Saturday night should be mostly clear.
Another bonus: temperatures will be 10-15 degrees warmer than average, so you won't shiver to see these meteors. That means 50s during prime viewing for us instead of the more typical 40s.
How to see Orionid Meteor
It's called Orionid because you find it in the sky near the Orion constellation. The three stars directly in a row form Orion's belt, which is very easy to spot in the southeast sky this time of year.
Just look a bit to the left of those three stars to spot the meteors, or "shooting stars." The best time to look, as with most meteor showers, will be between midnight and dawn, so you probably lose a little sleep. If you'd rather get up really early instead of staying up late, viewing both mornings may be best in the pre-dawn, and you'll get a little bonus. Just before dawn Saturday (which is at 7:52 am) and Sunday (at 7:53) you should be able to see bright Mars and Venus in the eastern sky before it starts getting light, and even after first light.
We see a meteor when a particle the size of a grain of sand up to perhaps a pebble-size hits Earth's atmosphere and burns up. The Orionid meteors can be particularly bright, even though there aren't usually as many as some at other times of year. If you get far enough away from the light pollution of the city (or your neighbor's floodlight), and let your eyes adjust completely to the darkness, you could see an average of 10-15 per hour. One of Michigan's Dark Sky Preserves would be a great place to watch, and the Lake Hudson Recreation Area isn't too far from the metro Detroit area.
This weekend's meteors are linked to Halley's Comet, that ball of ice and rock that's made big news for many centuries, returning about every 76 years. Even though the comet itself is very far way from us now, not to return until 2061, we pass through it's debris trail every October. So the Orionid meteors have an intriguing pedigree. They're also very fast, striking our atmosphere moving at about 148,000 miles per hour. Don't blink for long when you're watching.
A reminder: 10-15 per hour works out to one every 4-6 minutes, on average, if you're in a dark place. But even one could be quite a show. Still, most of the time you're watching, you'll just be looking at the vastness of the sky, and all the stars, and it'll probably be very quiet, and hopefully you won't be checking your phone, because that ruins things. I think the more time we all spend staring at the night sky, the better off our entire planet will be. Happy hunting.
To recap the Orionid meteor shower:
When: pre-dawn (midnight-dawn) this Saturday and Sunday is best
Where: look in the southeast part of the sky
What: 10-15 meteors per hour on average