Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Meteor Shower Coming

Meteor Shower Coming
by Dave Adalian

Though it didn’t get much press at the time, an astronomical record was broken a few weeks ago. On March 18, asteroid 2004 FH missed us, whizzing by just 26,500 miles away, about three and a half times Earth’s width, and coming closer than any other recorded pass.


Asteroid 2004 FH was just a little guy--only about 100 feet across--technically a meteoroid, if a very large one. Had it struck home, it likely would have exploded in the atmosphere, breaking windows and knocking pictures off the walls or more probably making lots of waves in some remote corner of the ocean.

But, it would have been one heck of a sight.

The difficult part about observing meteors is knowing when they’re going to arrive. They just aren’t reliable most of the time. This year, however, is going to be better than average for seekers of shooting stars.

Almost all of the major showers in 2004 will be free of moonlight, making even the dimmest meteors stand out when viewed from a properly dark environment. The excitement gets underway this month.

The Lyrids meteor shower peaks at 10-15 meteors an hour around 9 o’clock on the evening of April 21. Adding to the show will be another 10-15 sporadic meteors or so every hour streaking randomly across the sky.

Observing meteors is a wonderful way to get into astronomy since it requires no expensive optical equipment. It does, however, require some preparation. The smart shooting-stargazer will dress warmly for a long night under the stars. It’s also best to have a jug of hot coffee and snacks standing ready.

Of equal importance is posture. Sitting up or standing just won’t cut it. After a short time of bending the neck skyward fatigue sets in, so meteor watching is best done from a reclined position in a low-slung chair or lounge.

Showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to come. To make the most of the show viewers should be sure they can see the spot the meteors are coming from and the zenith, the spot that marks the top of the sky.

For April’s Lyrids, that means pointing your toes toward the northeast.

Here is a list of other best bets for meteor watching in 2004:
  • The Ophiucids, June 20
  • The Perseids, August 11
  • The Orionids, October 18-25
  • The Leonids, November 16
  • The Geminids, December 13


This column originally appeared in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta on April 6, 2004.