comets-book

You can now buy the recently released book, Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors. It is available through iBooks and Amazon.

 

This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.

Lyrid Meteor Shower

xxx Meteor Shower

 

 

The Discovery of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

The Lyrids were first recorded by Chinese astronomers on March 16, 687 BCE, when Chinese astronomer Zuo Zhuan claimed, "夏四月辛卯 夜 恆星不見 夜中 星隕如雨 (...at midnight, stars dropped down like rain)." This recorded observation is the oldest in the world. Keep in mind only six known meteor observation were made prior to 1 CE (Imoto, S. & Hasegawa, I.). Five of them belong to Chinese astronomers.

 

After comets were connected to meteor showers in the nineteenth century, modern astronomers scoured the ancient records of Chinese, Korean and Japanese astronomers. In 1867, Johann Gottfried Galle connected Zhuan's recorded observation to the Lyrid meteor storm.

 

 

 

 

The Parent Body of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1) was determined to be responsible for the Lyrid Meteor Shower (1867, Edmond Weiss). Weiss had calculated that the comet had come within .002 AU of Earth on April 20, 1861. It left behind larger chunks, which can produce fireballs when entering Earth atmosphere at 49 km / s (110,000 miles an hour).

 

These chunks can leave smoky trails in the atmosphere or even explode mid-air. On April 22, 2012, around 8 AM, residents of California and Nevada heard a sonic boom. The sonic boom was the result of meteor exploding in Earth's atmosphere, but it was not a Lyrid meteor (2012, Byrd). The explosion released four kilotons of energy. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 released 15 kilotons of energy. The meteor, or more accurately the meteoroid, was estimated to be around the size of a stove.

 

Thankfully, this dangerous near-Earth comet takes 415 years to orbit the Sun. Its next perihelion will be around 2280 CE.

 

 

 

When are the Lyrids visible?

The Lyrids last from about April 16 to April 26. They usually peak on April 22 or April 23.

 

The meteors radiate from Lyra, near the constellation's brightest star, Alpha Lyrae (Vega).

 

On average, somewhere between 5 to 20 meteors an hour are visible, but once every 60 years, the planets cause the Lyrid Meteor Shower to intensify. In 1803, "Shooting stars [were] observed on Wednesday morning [in] Richmond [Virginia] and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets ..." One witness claimed to have seen 700 meteors in an hour.

 

In 1922 and 1982, observers claimed over 90 meteors an hour were visible. The next Lyrid meteor "storm" could occur in 2042 CE.

 

 

Lyrid Meteor Shower

 

Radiant of the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Credit: Stellarium with radiant by Kevin Curran