Orion, the hunter, holds a bow in his hands, ready to fire an arrow across the night sky. He's never quite released that string, though, so the arrow remains fixed firmly in place. But every year, Orion does fire some projectiles across the sky: the "shooting stars" of the Orionid meteor shower. And the shower's at its best the next couple of nights.
This is called the Orionid shower because the meteors all appear to "rain" from Orion's direction. But the meteors can streak across any part of the sky, so you don't have to face Orion to see them.
Meteor showers occur when Earth flies through the orbital path of a comet, which is littered with bits of dust from the comet's surface. As the dust grains slam into our atmosphere they vaporize, creating streaks of light across the sky.
The Orionids come from Comet Halley. They don't match the comet's current orbit, though, so they must be left over from an era when Halley followed a different path. Comets are easily pushed around by the gravity of the planets, and they release plumes of gas that act like rockets, moving them into different orbits.
This isn't a good year for the Orionids, though. The shower's at its best before dawn on Tuesday. But the Moon is at last quarter that morning, so its light overpowers the fainter meteors.
If you want to give it a shot, find a dark viewing spot away from city lights. Then look for the "arrows" of the hunter streaking across the sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.