Right now, more than ever we're both disconnected from nature and starkly reminded of her power. As a distraction from earthly troubles this Tuesday the 21st April 2020, if we so choose, we can be reminded of our place within something much bigger thanks to Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.
Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher isn't the catchiest of names but around this time each year we, as in the passengers on planet earth, will witness our home passing through the tail of a comet that is circling deep space.
Meteors are small chunks of debris left in the wake of certain celestial objects, like asteroids or comets. When the Earth passes through this trail of material, it scoops up a number of these pieces which fall into the atmosphere.
These objects are moving extremely fast (about 50km/s) compared to the relatively still atmosphere. In fact, they fall so fast that the air in front of them can’t get out of the way fast enough, instead getting rapidly squashed and heating up. This causes the surface of the meteor to reach temperatures as high 1600°C, glowing brightly, which is visible as a short-lived streak of light in the sky.
The best time to see the shower is in the early morning of the peak day, which this year is the morning of the 22 April (the night of the 21 April). Wait until after midnight when the radiant point, in the constellation of Lyra, will have risen in the East. The later in the morning you wait, the higher the radiant will rise and the fewer meteors will be hidden below the horizon. But the closer you get to sunrise the brighter the sky is going to become so plan accordingly!
Then simply fill your view with the sky and wait. Lying on the ground is a great way to see as much as possible - blanket optional but highly recommended. Reclining deckchairs make an even more comfortable way to view the sky. Also, even though summer is rapidly approaching, remember to wrap up warm!
We know there's a lockdown but to anyone with a garden, a skylight or any access to the sky at night should consider hanging up the remote control, giving Netflix a miss for the night and cooking outside with family or whoever you're in isolation with and contemplating our place in an eternal and circular universe that's bigger than we can ever imagine.