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Midwest, Southwestern US: Optimal Viewing Conditions for Orionid Meteor Shower

A new moon will allow the perfect background for the dynamic peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower, starting Tuesday, Oct. 21 and lasting into the morning of Oct. 22.

Between midnight and dawn there could be as many as 25 meteors per hour, or one every two to three minutes, according to Slooh Astronomer Bob Berman.

Since it will be very close to a new moon, the lack of moonlight will provide darker skies and allow for stellar viewing conditions.

"There's no year better for the Orionids than this one," Berman said.

Early in the night, when the meteors aren't as abundant, Berman said it's best to look to the east. Yet as the night progresses and the Orionids become more prevalent, anyone with clear skies should be able to see them in any direction they choose to face.

Unfortunately for those looking to observe the Orionids in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and the northern Rockies to the High Plains, individual storm systems will hinder viewing opportunities. The Northeast is facing the threat of midweek nor'easter that will spin rain and clouds across the region.

Viewing conditions will also be obstructed across southern and central Florida as clouds stream in ahead of a feature meteorologists are monitoring for tropical development.

For stargazers that want to watch the Orionids, but will have their viewing conditions hampered by cloudy skies or bad weather, one alternative is to watch the shower through Slooh's live broadcast of the meteor shower.

Slooh frequently airs live astronomy events by using community observatories from all around the world. For the Orionids, Slooh's broadcast will start at 8 p.m. EDT and will continue for six consecutive hours.

Berman said they are using some new equipment such as low-light, high-resolution video cameras that are going to capture more of the meteors than they've ever captured before.

Accompanying the video broadcast will be a radio feed broadcasted from Roswell, New Mexico, which will allow stargazers to hear the sounds of the meteors entering the ionosphere.

"As the meteors enter the ionosphere, they, appropriately enough, ionize the air and that serves as a reflector for radio waves, so they actually give a crackle and a sound at the speed of light," Berman said.

"As the meteors are being seen, they can also be heard."

The Orionids, which are pieces of Halley's Comet, produce unusually fast streaks across the sky because they hit Earth head on, Berman said. With speeds around 41 miles per second, the Orionids are twice as fast as a high-velocity rifle bullet, he explained.

Berman said for reasons still unknown, the Orionids have a history of putting on a better show than expected.

There was a four-year period from 2006 to 2009 when the Orionids performed more like the famous Perseids, which occur in August, and can produce 60-70 meteors per hour.

"The uncertainty of whether we're going to have a super shower this year or not is another reason to really pay attention," Berman said. "We certainly have the great conditions for it, with this new moon."