Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
By Stacy Palen
Don’t forget to remind your students to watch for the Lyrid Meteor Shower this month. The peak occurs around April 21-22.
This meteor shower comes as Earth passes through the debris left behind by Comet Thatcher. Particles lost from the comet continue to drift in the Solar System, gradually changing their position.
As Earth moves through space, it passes near the trajectory of the comet and runs into collections of these particles. This will happen repeatedly at particular times of the year as Earth returns to the same point in its orbit. The particles burn up, creating meteors as they fall through the atmosphere.
Comet Thatcher has a 415 year orbit, so it is a long-period comet. It will not be back in the inner Solar System until 2276.
To watch a meteor shower, go to a clear dark site where the horizon is not obstructed. Spend about half an hour in the dark, without your cell phone or other bright light in view. This will allow your eyes to adapt to the dark. Then just watch for meteors! They are best seen with the naked eye.
If you are careful and methodical, your observations can contribute to the study of meteors and meteor streams! To learn more, visit the Astronomical League’s Meteor Observing Program website.