Sky watchers will finally get to enjoy the thrill of “shooting star” viewing again this week when the April Lyrids meteor shower arrives after a three-month meteor drought.
For those who enjoy looking at the night sky for the view of meteorsPopularly known as “shooting” or “shooting” stars, these last few months have been pretty quiet. There are many meteor showers that occur over the course of the year, but only ten are recognized as the ‘main’ meteor displays. The last rain of this type that took place was the Quadrantid Meteor Shower on January 3. Since then, there have been no other notable meteor showers to look for.
Finally, after 109 days —more than 15 weeks— we will have the opportunity to once again enjoy the night show with the April Lyrids.
Related: How to photograph meteors and meteor showers
The Lyrid meteor shower has been known for millennia. Chinese chronicle records show that they have been appearing regularly since at least 687 BC
In his lengthy tome, Meteor Showers and their Parent Comets (Cambridge University Press, 2006), author Peter Jenniskens noted that the annual Lyrid shower “has always been my favourite. After low rates in the cold months of February and March, This rain is the proverbial swallow of spring for observers in the northern hemisphere.”
The 2022 version of Lyrids is expected to peak on Friday (April 22) in the morning hours. The radiant, the point of emanation of these meteors, is about 6 degrees southwest of the bright blue. vega star in it lyra constellation, which rises in the northeastern sky during the late afternoon and is practically overhead at dawn. The moon, one day before Last roomhowever, it will interfere a bit with the light from the meteors.
Any meteor whose path, extended backwards, passes within a few degrees of Vega is likely to be a Lyrid. The Lyrids are rich in faint meteors, with occasional bright ones. They are considered one of the weakest main screens. Compared to August perseids and december geminidsWhich can produce many dozens of meteor sightings over the course of an hour of observation, the Lyrids typically produce only 10 to 20 meteors per hour at most.
Usually this rain is above a quarter of the maximum strength two days before and after the maximum, so if the weather in your area is unsettled on the morning of the 22nd, you still have a chance to catch some Lyrids one or two days before or after. after the time of its maximum activity.
But there is always the small chance of a surprise.
1803: a meteor storm
The April Lyrids have sometimes provided spectacular displays, as in 687 BC. C. when Chinese records said “the stars fell like rain” and at least a dozen other times since then. The story is often told of how the residents of Richmond, Virginia were dragged out of bed by the fire bell on the morning of April 20, 1803. The fire that had broken out in the armory was quickly extinguished, but this left him it gave the townspeople a chance to see meteors falling in great numbers from all over the sky.
Another account was a letter, published in Raleigh, North Carolina, Registry:
“We, the undersigned…being Wednesday night, April 20, at a fishing party, and returning home about 1 AM, were alarmed by the appearance of a meteor shower; the entire hemisphere up to where, like the expanse of the horizon, it seemed to be illuminated; the meteors kept no particular direction, but seemed to move in every direction. We watched the phenomenon through space for perhaps half an hour in amazement, during which time no intermediate appeared . heard a whistling sound in the air, but heard no reports. Previous statements can be relied upon as fact.” (Signed by four men).
Other similar accounts came from New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Delaware.
The meteor burst of 1803 was completely unexpected. Very little was known about meteors in the 18th and 19th centuries, except for the slight increase in their number each year in early August. Today we know that the progenitor of the Lyrid meteors is Thatcher’s comet that surrounds the sun in an orbit of approximately 415 years and was last seen in the spring of 1861.
In 1922 a brief burst of 100 meteors per hour was reported. In 1982, rates unexpectedly reached 90 for a single hour and a staggering 180 to 300 per hour for a few minutes. “Indeed, many past Lyrid outbursts may have been lost simply due to gaps in observation,” writes Paul Roggermans in Manual for Visual Observations of Meteors (Sky Publishing Corporation, 1989).
So maybe it wouldn’t hurt to set your alarm clock at 3 or 4 a.m. on April 22 to take a brief peek out the window, despite the moonlight.
Hey . . . you never know
The next major meteor display is scheduled for the first week of May, the Eta Aquarids. This shower is one of the most popular annual events for meteor watchers in the southern hemisphere; one of the best of the annual rains. Unfortunately, northern observers are handicapped by the low radiant height of this shower, in addition to the dawn twilight arrival just as the radiant appears. Meteoroids produced by this shower date back to Halley comet. The peak of the Eta Aquarids of 2022 is predicted for the morning of May 6.
But there’s a second meteor shower in May that could very well end up being the best of the year.
An ‘all or nothing’ meteor display
Not many people have heard of the Tau Herculid shower. Normally, it produces no more than a few meteors during an entire night’s watch. But things changed radically when at the end of 1995, the nucleus of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (the main body of the shower) fragmented. Now, several meteor dynamics experts have confirmed what I had suggested last year: A stream of particles ejected during comet disruption may produce a dramatic outburst in late May 2022.
This prediction, however, is uncertain because no one knows for sure how quickly the expulsion of kite the dust left the decaying nucleus of 73P. However, we all agree that whatever happens will take place around 1am. Northwest and virtually all of Canada). Even better, the light of the moon, a day after its new phase, will not interfere.
The cometary debris cloud will hit land at a very slow speed of 10 miles (16 kilometers) per second, which would normally produce very faint meteors. However, the shower’s radiant will be high in the sky over the Americas, and the meteoroid swarm could be dense enough to produce a spectacular visual spectacle.
Space.com will provide more details on this potential new meteor display in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
Joe Rao is an instructor and guest speaker at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. write about astronomy natural history magazinethe farmers almanac and other publications. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom and in Facebook.