The Lyrid Shower, Comet Thatcher and the Northern Lights
April 15, 2013
The Lyrid Meteor Shower at spaceweather.com explains that:
Every year in late April Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), and the encounter causes a meteor shower–the Lyrids. This year the shower peaks on Saturday night, April 21st. Forecasters expect 10 to 20 meteors per hour, although outbursts as high as 100 meteors per hour are possible.
Lyrid meteors appear to stream from the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. In fact, Lyrids have nothing to do with Vega. The true source of the shower is Comet Thatcher. Every year in April, Earth plows through Thatcher’s dusty tail. Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth’s atmosphere traveling 49 km/s (110,000 mph) and disintegrate as streaks of light.
Lyrid meteors are typically as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, which is to say of middling brightness. But some are more intense, even brighter than Venus. These “Lyrid fireballs” cast shadows for a split second and leave behind smokey debris trails that linger for minutes.
Occasionally, the shower intensifies. Most years in April there are no more than 5 to 20 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak. But sometimes, when Earth glides through an unusually dense clump of comet debris, the rate increases.
There’s no way of knowing whether or not this would be a big year, but I’d say that with the Iron Lady’s recent passing, there’s a chance! FYI, Comet Thatcher was named by A.E. Thatcher way back in 1861.
Nobody I know caught the Northern Lights Saturday night, but I thought that Cory’s photo taken when he went looking for Lyrids on April 22, 2012 would be the next best thing! Check it out on black and see more in his Space slideshow.