The weather continues to be uncooperative for any sort of useful time travel. So as long as we’re complaining about the weather, let’s complain about the right kind of weather.
You may or may not have heard the term space weather. Just like we have terrestrial weather, which is the system of clouds, water, snow, wind, and so forth that happen on our planet (and affect our planet), space weather refers to the system of sunspots, radiation, meteors, and other events that are happening in our solar system that might affect our planet as well. In this case, we’re going to focus on the Lyrid meteor shower. It happens every year starting in mid April, and goes for about a week. It peaks on or near the night of 21-Apr-2011 this year.
Meteor showers are caused by lots of pebble and small rock-sized pieces of junk being in the path of the Earth. As we move through it, it accelerates through the atmosphere and burns up in long displays of light – shooting stars, as they’re called.
The Lyrids look like they are coming out of the constellation Lyra, which is why they are called the Lyrids. For 2600 years or so, people have looked up at them, making them the longest known observed meteor shower in the history of mankind. The dust and pebbles are leftovers from Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which whips around our sun about once every 415 years or so. Chances are slim that you’ll ever see it though, since the last time it was in this neck of the woods was in 1861.
The best way to watch meteors is on a reclining lawn chair with a blanket and some hot chocolate in a dark area with few trees. Look towards Lyra (Google can help you with this), and then start staring. You should see about 5-20 meteors per hour. On a good night, in a good year, you might catch a meteor shower, which can bring upwards of 80-90 per hour, or more than one per minute. Be patient, and don’t bother with the optics – they are too fast to really be able to focus on.
If you want to take pictures, aim a camera at the sky, open the shutter with a bulb setting, and let it go for a while. Hope you catch a meteor by chance, and then close the shutter. The image will be a streak of light with more or less bright background stars, depending on how long it was left open and other factors. It’s mostly hit-or-miss. Some meteors will explode, leaving little fireballs that might last upwards of a minute. Some will hit the ground as meteorites. Most will become vapor in our atmosphere.