Among the many celestial events that happen, the Lyrid meteor shower is one that sky watchers could count on witnessing each year in April without the need to use high tech equipment. In fact, people don't even need to have expansive knowledge of the constellations to be able to watch the meteor shower.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower has already begun and will peak from April 22 to 24 for your viewing pleasure. Before running out to look up at the sky, however, sky watchers who marvel at the sight of Lyrids lighting up the sky may want to get to know the celestial event better.
Here's a brief history of the Lyrid meteor shower.
Identifying The Lyrids
The Lyrid meteor shower was pretty much a random celestial activity until 1833 when an immense meteor storm took place in November. It was later on identified as the Leonid meteor shower.
While the Leonids have nothing to do with the Lyrid meteor shower, it was the event that led astronomers to search for similar periodic occurrences and eventually identify the higher-than-normal meteor activity every year in April.
Since the shower seems to originate near the blue star Vega, which is part of the constellation Lyra (the Lyre), astronomers dubbed the April meteor shower as "Lyrids."
However, it was still unclear where exactly the Lyrids came from, and since most meteors originate from comets that lose gas and dust as it gets closer to the sun, astronomers worked on searching for the Lyrids' origin.
The Comet Connection
The Lyrids are actually connected to comet Thatcher, which is named after amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher who first spotted the unusual magnitude 7.5 object in the New York night sky on April 5, 1861.
However, it was not until 1867 that Professor Edmond Weiss from Vienna noticed that comet Thatcher and the Earth's orbit nearly coincides around April 20 — despite the comet was on its way to the outer solar system. Later that same year, astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle of Germany mathematically proved the link between comet Thatcher and the April meteors.
Unfortunately for sky watchers, no living person today would be able to see it because comet Thatcher is not returning until 2276.
Historical Sightings Of The Lyrids
The Lyrids may have been officially identified in 1867, but sightings of the April meteor shower actually dates back to 687 B.C. and 15 B.C. in China. Another account was recorded in A.D. 1136 in Korea where a meteor shower originating from the northeast was sighted.
In a more recent record, the townspeople in Richmond, Virginia witnessed a rich display of Lyrid meteor shower activity in 1803.
As for 2017, predictions say that sky watchers in North America will be fortunate enough to experience good to excellent night sky conditions to witness the Lyrid activity.