Saturday, October 6, 2012

Orionid Meteor Shower - October 2nd to November 7th

                                                                                      “I’m high on my hill and I feel fine
                                                                                      Orion, let’s sip the heaven’s heady wine”

                                                                                                                  “Orion” by Ian Anderson

October is the month for beer and meteors.  Which one would you rather have at your house?  Don’t worry.  Meteors rarely hit houses and as for Octoberfest, kicking back with a cold glass of your favorite beer or Rhine wine is a perfect way to enjoy the spectacle of this year’s Orionid Meteor Shower.  The Orionid Shower is a rapid fire event boasting twenty to thirty meteors streaking towards Earth every hour. They hit our upper atmosphere at a brisk 148,000 miles per hour, usually burning up before impact.

Both the Orionid and the Eta Aquarid meteor showers originate from the debris trail left by Halley’s Comet. Earth passes through Halley’s debris field twice a year during the months of May and October.  The Orionid Shower runs from October 2nd through November 7th, however the meteors start falling in a trickle and will be more readily seen October 15th through the 29th.  The shower peaks just prior to midnight on October 20th and through the pre-dawn hours of October 21st.  The radiant, or point of origin, for the Orionids is in northeastern quadrant of the constellation of Orion, near its border with Gemini. The radiant for this shower will rise high into the night sky from the southern horizon. 

Orion is very easy to spot in the night sky.  Look for three bright, diagonal stars.  That’s Orion’s belt.  There’s a fourth star directly below the highest of the diagonal stars and it’s this star that denotes the point of his sword.  Orion’s sword is home to the famous Orion Nebula.  

The star, Rigel (Remember the Klingon crewman referring to
Captain Kirk as a Rigelian Bloodworm? There you go.) marks one of Orion’s legs while the stars, Bellatrix and Betelqeuse make up his shoulders.  Betelqeuse is a reddish colored star and on very clear nights you can see the color difference with the naked eye. Which leaves us with only a 
couple of questions: Who was this Orion guy and what made him so great that they named a star cluster after him?  Again, we turn to ancient myth for a torrid tale.

Orion was the son of Neptune, God of the Sea and renowned as a hunter.  He was a giant and but all tellings of the story, a very handsome man.  He fell in love with Merope, daughter of the King of Chios.  The king didn’t care much for Orion and as skeptical father’s of virtuous beauties often did in those days, he gave Orion a series of tasks to complete to prove himself worthy of the young lady’s hand in marriage.  Every time Orion completed a task, the king found another task and when the last task was completed, the king still refused Merope’s hand to Orion.  

One night Orion, feeling discouraged and probably more than a little sorry for himself, got very drunk.  Just what every palace needs - a drunken giant roaming the halls.  Orion decided that the solution to his woes was to kidnap Merope.  As with most brilliant ideas born of drunkenness, this one also ended badly.  The king had Orion blinded.  However, Neptune’s son was not without friends.  Orion was taken to the God of the Sun, Apollo.  The rays emanating from Apollo restored Orion’s eyesight.

And how did Orion repay Apollo’s generosity?  By going to Crete and putting the moves on Apollo’s twin sister, Diana.  Real nice.  Clearly Merope’s father had good reason to doubt Orion’s sincerity.  Diana, who was Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, tracked game and swam with Orion.  They fished and feasted and fell in love.  They planned to marry.  Apollo was even less pleased with the prospect of welcoming Orion into his family than Merope’s father had been.  One day he challenged Diana to prove her archery skills by hitting a log floating out at sea.  Apparently Apollo’s eyesight was much better than Diana’s.  He knew it was Orion swimming in the ocean.  Diana killed her beloved with one shot.  When Orion’s body washed ashore Diana has devastated.  She placed him among the stars to honor him.  Wow, did those Olympians know about intrigue and passion, or what?

There’s another version of Orion’s story about becoming a constellation.  It’s short and sweet.  Orion got on the wrong side of Scorpius, the scorpion, literally.  He was stung to death. Both Orion and his arch nemesis were placed in the sky, but in different quadrants so that they never have to share the sky together.

Pick whichever version of the story you like the best, open a cold one and enjoy the meteor shower.  Oh, and don’t forget to watch out for triffids.


Check out this cool link for 2013 meteor showers!

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