Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Orionid Meteors

Orionid Meteor
Just to the Right of Venus


The Earth crosses the dust of
Halley’s Comet twice each year -- the next instance being tomorrow morning. The Comet itself won't be on display again until 2061, but early tomorrow one will be able to see the Orionid Meteor Shower, caused by Halley. When a comet's dust particles collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere at nearly 150,000 mph, it incinerates in a brief, brilliant flash of light -- a meteor.

In 1909 Mark Twain -- who was born two weeks after Halley's passed closest to Earth -- said: "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"

The prediction was accurate: Twain died one day after the comet's closest approach to Earth in 1910.

Halley's Comet - 1910

Twain had an elder sibling named Orion Clemens. Judging by the literary advice Hannibal, MO's most famous author gave his brother on how to pen an autobiography, I don't get the impression that Twain thought much of him. Anyway, Orion is also the name of the constellation from which the Orionid Meteor Shower takes its name -- the shower is located near the ancient celestial hunter.


Kindred Spirit said...

Thank you for posting this, Sean. I'll be up watching the skies early in the morning.

Patti Petersen said...

Fascinating post, Sean. Loved the photos you included!