fireball meteor

Fireball meteor shower to light up Toronto area skies

Remember that fireball that streaked across Toronto skies a couple of weeks ago? It was an early arrival from the Orionid meteor shower, which reaches its peak this Friday. These meteors stem from the cosmic debris kicked up by Halley's Comet, which is visible from Earth every 75-76 years.

While the Orionids is typically a modest meteor shower in terms of the number of visible shooting stars (dark sky viewers can expect roughly 20 an hour in good conditions), it's known for packing a punch when it comes to intensity. There are usually a few good fireballs that shoot across the sky during this celestial event.

"A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus as seen in the morning or evening sky," explains the American Meteor Society.

I was lucky enough to catch one of these fireballs while driving home from cottage country last Sunday evening in the southwestern sky, and there have been other reports of enormous ones in the days leading up to the peak of the shower.

There is some bad news, though. Aside from the fact that you can't predict precisely when or how many Orionids meteors will be fireballs, the moon will be a pesky deterrent. When the shower reaches its peak in the pre-dawn hours tomorrow morning, the moon will still be at 62 per cent illumination, which will block out all but the brightest meteors.

Your best bet for viewing is to head to an area with no light pollution on the evening of October 24, when the radiant point of the shower will rise before the moon. The window between 11:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. will offer the best chance to see numerous meteors, many of which are predicted to feature longer tails and brighter bursts than we typically see.

Even if you don't get a chance to do some dedicated viewing on the 24th, any stargazing over the weekend could be rewarded with the sight of a dazzling fireball.

Photo by Jeffrey Sullivan.


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