Everyone knows the old joke about April showers bringing May flowers and Mayflowers bringing pilgrims, but for astronomers, April showers are a prelude to May showers.
That is, meteor showers, and we have one this month and one in May. A meteor shower occurs when the earth flows through debris from a comet and pieces of that debris, usually about the size of a grain of sand, burn up in our atmosphere.
Here’s what, in terms of post-Lyrids meteorites, peaked on the evening of April 21st and the early hours of April 22nd. This shower typically only produces 15 to 20 meteors per hour, but is known for its occasional fireballs and eruptions. when up to 100 meteors rain. Meteor showers are named for the constellation from which most meteors appear to radiate (this is known as radiation), therefore the lyrids appear to be from the constellation Lyra.
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· The Eta-Aquariids, which peak in the early morning of May 5th and produce up to 30 meteors per hour. This is a real early bird because its ray, the constellation Aquarius, rises in the east around 4 a.m. A waning crescent moon (33% lit) will be in Aquarius this morning, but it shouldn’t wash out too many meteors.
An interesting tidbit about meteor showers (interesting to astronomers at least) is their parent comets. The lyrids are debris from Comet Thatcher (C / 1861 G1), discovered by AE Thatcher in 1861. This comet orbits the sun roughly every 415 years, so it won’t be back on our nape of the solar system until the late 23rd century.
The mother of the Eta-Aquariids is the much better known Comet Halley, which orbits the sun every 75 to 76 years. Comets are often named after their discoverers, but the English astronomer Edmond Halley, after whom the comet is named, did not discover it – humans had watched the comet for 2000 years before Halley was born. Instead, Halley published “A Summary of the Astronomy of Comets” in 1705, in which he writes that a comet he saw in 1682 was the same comet that was reported in 1465, 1531, and 1607. This was a bold statement because, before Halley, people thought comets were approaching the sun and whipping around them at such great speed that they “run off to the remotest parts of the universe … never to return to the sun.” However, based on some serious math, Halley concluded that comets actually “move in very eccentric orbits and return after long periods of time”. Then, regarding the comet of 1682, Halley said, “So I dare to predict that it will return in 1758.” 16 years after Halley’s death. Since then this comet has been known as Halley’s Comet.
Here is a digression showing the literary impact of Halley’s work: Mark Twain was born on November 30, 1835, two weeks after Halley’s comet reached perihelion, the closest to the sun. In 1909 Twain wrote: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. He’s coming back next year and I assume I’ll go out with it. It will be the biggest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty certainly said, “Here are these two inexplicable freaks; they came in together, they have to go out together. “Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, the day after Halley’s comet reached perihelion.
The Beehive Cluster (also known as M44): This open star cluster in the constellation Cancer is made up of approximately 1,000 stars that are 577 light years from Earth. It’s not the most dramatic deep-sky object, but it’s a breath of fresh air in the otherwise empty space of Cancer.
The five-day-old growing crescent: For viewing through a telescope, the growing crescent is my personal favorite. For one thing, the bigger the moon is, the brighter it is, and the brighter it is, the more difficult it is to look through a telescope. So you need density filters to block some of the light. Second, you can see many details during the waxing crescent, including shadows cast by lunar craters along the terminator (the line that separates day and night on the moon).
· The binary star system Mizar and Alcor. Although these stars, which are in the grip of the Big Dipper 86 light-years away, are considered a double star (or double star), Mizar itself is a double star system and Alcor is a quadruple star system. Mizar glows with an intensity of 2.04 while Alcor is weaker and glows with an intensity of 3.99 (the smaller the size of a star, the brighter it is), and several ancient cultures used the stars as an eye test in front of the eye chart: Mizar is easy to see with the naked eye, but a person who could also see Alcor was considered to have excellent sight. The idea was so widespread that the Romans came up with a saying: “Vidit Alcor, a non-Lunum plenary.” Translation: “He saw Alcor but not the full moon.” The statement was applied to someone who sweats the little things and ignores the big picture, much like a person who can’t see the forest for the trees.
The seats are still available at 9.15 p.m. and 9.45 p.m. Admission is $ 8 for museum members and $ 10 for everyone else. Pre-registration is required (to register, visit www.BishopScience.org/events).
Finally on the Mars news: NASA’s 4-pound Ingenuity helicopter, which was traveling to the Red Planet, strapped to the underside of the Perseverance rover, made its first flight this week. It was the first powered flight ever performed on another planet.
On a wonderfully historical / scientific / poetic note, a small piece of cloth from the Wright Brothers’ Wright Flyer, who made the first powered flight on Earth in 1903, is attached to a cable under the Ingenuity solar panel.
Let’s reflect on some of the earliest developments in the history of powered flight: For tens of thousands of years people could only dream of flying. Then came the Wright brothers, whose first flight was 120 feet (speed 30 miles per hour, height eight feet).
Twenty-four years later, Charles Lindberg made the first transatlantic solo flight while piloting the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, a distance of 3,600 miles (speed 130 miles per hour, altitude 10,000 feet).
Twenty years later, Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, Glamorous Glynnis (speed 700 mph, altitude 43,000 feet).
Twenty-two years later, Apollo 11 covered 255,000 miles at speeds of up to 40,000 km / h, making Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first people to walk on the moon.
And now, 118 years after the first powered flight of mankind, part of this first powered airplane is being connected to the first airplane to perform a powered flight on another planet.
If that doesn’t give you goose bumps, you might want to have your pulse checked.
Howard Hochhalter is the manager of the planetarium at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.