Meteor Showers and Shooting Stars

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut
Martz/Kohl Board of Directors

April showers usually bring May flowers. But high above the clouds, April Showers this year mean meteor showers, too – shooting stars that streak across the night sky. And a field trip is being planned by the Martz/Kohl Observatory to take place later in the spring or summer months to pick up meteors instead of May flowers.

Special Night
The Martz/Kohl Observatory will host a special program for the Wednesday, April 12th general public meeting at 8:00pm titled: “Meteor Showers and Shooting Stars”. Learn about the only person on Earth ever proven to have been struck by a meteor falling from space, see rocks from the Moon and Mars that arrived on Earth as meteors, and find out why some special places in Western New York have been gathering meteorites for thousands of years. A field trip is planned for one such special location – mere miles from downtown Jamestown. Come to the April 12th meeting for details of time and place.

Meteor Shower Coming
On Saturday night, April 22 and Sunday morning April 23 this year, the Lyrids Meteor Shower will display about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. This meteor shower, like all others, is produced when Earth passes through the dusty debris tail comets leave behind in their periodic swings around the sun. The dust grains move so fast in space that a particle the size of a sand grain packs the power of a speeding bullet. When one streaks into the earth’s upper atmosphere it blazes a brilliant trail through the thin air, shedding its energy in flaming gas that can remain visible for several seconds earning each one the ancient title of shooting star.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower’s light show is created by debris from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, first seen in 1861. The shower’s appearance varies from April 16 through 25. This year’s peak is late night on April 22nd through early morning on the 23rd. The best viewing requires a dark location after midnight, radiating from the constellation Lyra.

International Astronomy Day
Though International Astronomy Day is Saturday, April 29 this year, the Martz/Kohl Observatory’s April event on meteors and meteor showers is held on an earlier date to accommodate other scheduling. But the purpose is the same. It is intended to connect the general public and the many astronomy enthusiasts and back yard star gazers together with organizations like the Martz/Kohl Observatory. The Astronomy Day theme is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” to publicize special events like our monthly special speakers, courses in telescope use and photography and remote operation from school and home. Log on to Martzobservatory.org to learn more or visit the observatory any Wednesday evening when it is open to the public for star viewing, tours and special programs.

For a deeper look at the night sky, planets, stars and the entire universe, visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory online at martzobservatory.org, check the schedule of events and visit in person. Thank you to Hall and Laury Opticians for sponsoring these Martz/Kohl column.