The Jeuns

‘Guide to Observing the Peak of the Lyrid Meteor Shower’

April 16, 2024 | by The Jeuns

Meteor showers like the Lyrids occur when Earth passes through a dense part of the debris stream left behind by a comet. These small particles, mostly the size of grains of sand, hit Earth’s atmosphere at speeds over a hundred thousand kilometers per hour, creating a spectacular show as they burn up. Approximately 15 percent of these meteors leave behind visible trails that linger for a few minutes.

The Lyrids specifically originate from Comet Thatcher, which last passed close to the sun in 1861. The comet’s orbital path, tilted almost perpendicular to the solar system’s plane, helps maintain the stream of debris and prevents it from being scattered by gravitational forces from other planets. This unique orbit is believed to be the reason why the Lyrids have consistently put on a dazzling display for centuries.

Historical records of the Lyrids date back over 2,600 years, with Chinese astronomers in 687 B.C. describing the meteor shower as meteors “falling like rain.” In 1803, newspaper accounts documented a Lyrid meteor storm witnessed across the eastern United States, where shooting stars seemed to shower down in all directions, resembling rockets in reverse.

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