Friday, April 19, 2013

Lyrids Meteor Shower, April 21st -April 22nd - Lyre, Lyre - Sky on Fire

The constellation Lyra, is the radiant, or point of origin, for the Lyrids Meteor Shower.  Lyra, whose principle star is Vega, rises out of the northeastern part of the sky after 10:00 p.m.  The Lyrids shower runs from April 16th through the 25th, but the peak time for viewing will be during the pre-dawn hours of April 22nd, after the moon has set (Waxing Gibbous in Virgo at 91.2 % full).  This meteor shower is one of the more conservative displays we see in the meteor season, raining between ten to twenty meteors per hour.  However, according to astronomers, the Lyrids will sometimes surprise you with surges of up to one hundred meteors per hour.

According to myth, Orpheus, the son of Apollo and Calliope, was a musician.  His best known gig was playing lead lyre for Jason and the Argonauts.  His father, Apollo, gave Orpheus a lyre that’s sound was so pure and enticing, its music charmed everything - even the rocks in the field.  It also charmed a beautiful nymph named Eurydice, who fell in love with Orpheus and married him.  

It’s not easy being the half-mortal child of a god. Just ask Percy Jackson. Orpheus and Eurydice’s happiness didn’t last. One day, while running from an ardent admirer (a common pastime for beautiful nymphs), Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died.  Orpheus in his grief followed her into the underworld and pleaded with Pluto for her return. Pluto agreed, with one condition.  Orpheus must lead his wife from the underworld, but never look back at her until they were above ground. You guessed it; for whatever reason, he looked back.  Later, after Orpheus’ death at the hands of crazed fans during a bacchanalia, Jupiter placed the magical lyre in the sky for all to see.

The cosmic debris responsible of the Lyrids display comes from the tail of Comet Thatcher.  This comet appears in our neighborhood every 415 years and we pass through its debris field every April.  Comet Thatcher was discovered on April 5, 1861, a week before the beginning of the American Civil War.  Its discovery clearly lent credence to the old superstition that the appearance of a comet preceded catastrophic events.

Meteor watching requires no protective eye gear.  All you need is a dark sky, a blanket and maybe a lawn chair.  It’s a natural spectacle, rated G, devoid of CGI and Dolby Sound.  More importantly, like starlight, meteor showers are free.


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