Tonight is a great time to see the Orionid meteor shower

Story highlights

  • The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks tonight
  • About 20 meteors per hour may be seen during the peak, NASA says

(CNN)The sky will put on a heck of a show tonight.

The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks Friday night into Saturday morning. If you have an unclouded view of the night sky, preferably away from city lights, you'll see beautiful streaks of light zipping overhead.

    What are the Orionids?

    They're one of a few major, yearly meteor showers. The Orionids -- so named because the meteors appear to radiate out from near the Orion constellation -- happen from October to November. This year, the showtime is October 4 through November 14.
    But Friday night is prime time; you could see about 20 meteors per hour -- more than at any other point during the Orionid window.

    What causes it?

    Meteors are tiny space debris burning up as they hit Earth's atmosphere. In the case of the Orionids, the debris are particles left behind by Halley's Comet, which visited our cosmic neighborhood in 1986. When the comet flies close to the sun every 75 years or so, the sun burns off some of its surface, so it leaves behind dust and rock.
    Halley's Comet left behind the debris responsible for the Orionids. This photo, taken by the European spacecraft Giotto in 1986, shows the comet's nucleus.
    The Earth runs into clouds of debris from Halley's Comet twice a year. In October and November, we get the Orionid showers. From April to May, we get the Eta Aquarid showers.

    Where is Halley's Comet, anyway?

    Far away from here. It's been traveling away from our sun since its 1986 flyby, and it's projected to come back close enough for us to see it with the naked eye in 2061.