A shooting star is seen above the Montebello Open Space Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif. on Wednesday. Streaking fireballs lighting up California skies and stunning stargazers are part of a major meteor shower, and the show is just getting started, professional observers said.
It’s been 26 years since Halley’s Comet streaked by Earth, but the debris created by the comet continues to put on a spectacular display around this time of year, and the peak show time for earthlings will be early Sunday.
Although Halley’s Comet is long gone, between Oct. 20 and 21 each year, chunks of ice, dust and rubble left in the comet’s wake hit the Earth’s atmosphere as the planet passes through the debris.
The best time to witness the meteors, or shooting stars, is in the hours before dawn Sunday, according to EarthSky.com. If you’re lucky - and you’re not hindered by city lights, buildings or trees - you might see up to 25 shooting stars an hour hitting the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
As the chunks fall toward Earth and begin to vaporize, they provide a bright contrast to the North Georgia sky. The meteors can be traced to the constellation Orion the Hunter, which gives the display the name Orionid meteor shower.
Wrap up if you plan to see the show. Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz said temperatures early Sunday will be in the low 40s with a light wind in metro Atlanta and upper 30s in some parts of far North Georgia. The sky, however, will be clear.
The comet’s debris, traveling at up to 150,000 mph toward Earth, may be spotted a few nights after the peak viewing period.
Nitz expects clear nights and sunny days through the middle of the week.
“The sun stays with us with lighter winds through the day Sunday,” Nitz said. “We’re going to warm back up into the low to mid 70s.” Highs will be in the mid to upper 70s through Wednesday with lows in the low 50s, he said.
If you are unable see the meteors outdoors, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will carry them live on a Ustream feed. And according to NASA, even if you don’t see a shooting star you should be able to spot Venus, Mars, the dog star Sirius and constellations such as Orion, Gemini and Taurus.
By the way, if you missed Halley’s Comet in 1986, you’ll get another chance to see it on its next drive-by in the summer of 2061.