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Giants in the Sky: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Orionid meteor shower, best times to view and where to look. Infographic from PA Graphics.
PA Graphics/Press Association Images
PA Graphics
Orionid meteor shower, best times to view and where to look. Infographic from PA Graphics.

Halley’s Comet is probably the most well-known of the periodic visitors that sweep through our planetary system, and it’s also the parent of two meteor showers each year: the Eta Aquariids in early May; and the Orionids, which are active now, and come to their peak this weekend, in the predawn hours from Saturday to Sunday.

The radiant or center point from which these meteors fall through the sky is near the shoulder region of the constellation Orion, which is marked by the star Betelgeuse.

Though this star was made famous in the 1980s by the movie starring Michael Keaton, the shoulder of the giant had been remarkable since at least classical times, when the Greeks shared myths of the Titan Atlas, who bore the pillars of the heavens on his shoulders.

In ancient Egypt, Orion seems to have been connected with their god of the dead, Osiris, whose consort and queen Isis was associated with the bright star Sirius.

To some northern Native Americans, Orion is winter maker, and in the Old Testament book of Job, after God asks Job whether he has entered into the secret mystery of the snow, he asks whether Job has the capacity to loose the bands of Orion.

All this to say that this month’s meteor shower, the Orionids, have a certain stellar pedigree, what with their illustrious originating comet and the associations with the radiant constellation.

It’s worth noting also that in fairy tales, giants like Orion usually represent an seemingly insurmountable challenge, the unavoidable test that must be faced and which requires tenacity, courage, and unsentimental virtue.

Mary Stewart Adams is a Star Lore Historian and host of “The Storyteller’s Night Sky.” As a global advocate for starry skies, Mary led the team that established the 9th International Dark Sky Park in the world in 2011, which later led to her home state of Michigan protecting 35,000 acres of state land for its natural darkness.