Spectacular 2012 Lyrid Meteor Shower Photos

The Lyrid meteor shower amazed some skywatchers around the world with bright celestial fireworks this weekend, thanks in part to the lack of a bright moon.

The annual April "shooting star" display hit its peak in the wee hours of Sunday (April 22) while the moon was in its dark, new phase, offering observers with clear weather a better chance to spot the Lyrid meteor shower without the interference of bright moonlight.

"Clear skies, no moon, a bit chilly, but otherwise perfect. I saw two meteors shortly after sunset," photographer Bill Allen of Ralph, Saskatchewan in Canada told SPACE.com in an email.

The Lyrid meteor shower has been observed by humans for more than 2,600 years and occurs each year in mid-April when the Earth passes through a stream of dust left behind by the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). The comet dust can reach speeds of up to 110,000 mph (177,027 kph) as it slams into Earth's atmosphere, causing it to ignite as dazzling meteors.

NASA scientists predicted an impressive Lyrid meteor display this year because of the shower's timing coincided with the new moon. A confluence of two other events also enhanced the meteor shower for NASA. (Source)

Booming Fireball

A fireball streaks across the sky north of Reno, Nevada, in a picture taken Sunday morning by local resident Lisa Warren.

Part of the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower, which peaked this past weekend, the bright object and its resulting sonic boom surprised many in Nevada and California, according to Space.com.

"There was this light streaking across the sky. I just started snapping pictures and managed to get three frames as it was exploding. It was so bright, we were seeing spots after. I just thought, 'I can't believe I got three pictures of that,'" Warren told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Fireballs are rare, unusually particularly bright meteors. When they do occur, they make "quite a spectacular sight for observers," said Raminder Singh Samra, a resident astronomer at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver, Canada.

For stargazers, the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower was one of the best sky shows in years, peaking as it did on a moonless night.

Photograph courtesy Lisa Warren

Oregon Visitor

A Lyrid meteor, or shooting star, darts above a barn in rural Oregon on Saturday.
"Typical hourly rates for the Lyrids can run between 10 and 20 meteors," Samra said. "However, rates as high as a hundred meteors per hour are not uncommon."

Photograph by Robin Loznak, Zuma Press

Double Feature

Streaking over "a persistent glowing arc low on the horizon," a Lyrid meteor enlivens an aurora over Marquette, Michigan, in the predawn hours of Sunday, according to photographer Shawn Malone, writing on Spaceweather.com.
As with most other annual meteor showers, the Lyrids are thought to be caused by sand grain-size debris left over from a passing comet.
When a comet gets close to the sun, its ices vaporize, releasing dust grains and sometimes small lumps of rock that settle into orbit around the sun.

Photograph courtesy Shawn Stockman-Malone

Lucky Break

For most of Saturday night, clouds hid the Lyrid meteor shower from Yuichi Takasaka in Lumby, Canada. But "luckily it went clear after a while and we could see some Lyrids and also very faint auroras on the northern horizon!" Takasaka wrote to the World at Night (TWAN) website for night-sky photographers.
The Lyrids are thought to originate from comet Thatcher, whose 416-year orbit is nearly perpendicular to the plane of the solar system. That means the comet's debris trail doesn't experience many gravitational disturbances from planets, asteroids, and other comets.
Astronomers believe this stable stream of debris may be the reason the Lyrids have been a reliable sky show for centuries.

Photograph by Yuichi Takasaka, TWAN

Late, Late Show

Like a shining arrow aimed at Stagecoach, Colorado, a Lyrid meteor seemingly streaks away from the bright star Vega in a 30-second exposure taken in the wee hours of Sunday.
The Lyrids appear to radiate from Vega, which makes them relatively easy to spot. "Vega can be spotted in even the heaviest of light-polluted cities," astronomer Samra said.

Photograph courtesy Jimmy Westlake

Into the Mist

A lyrid meteor flashes over an acid green auroral cloud layer in Lumby, Canada, Saturday night.
"Like clockwork every year in April, the Earth passes through the particle stream of [comet Thatcher], which last approached the sun in 1861," Samra said.
"These particles hit our atmosphere while traveling at high speeds and burn up, leaving behind streaks of light"-what we see as meteors.

Photograph by Yuichi Takasaka, TWAN


A Lyrid meteor makes cuts through the watermelon hues of an aurora over Culdaff Beach in Ireland early Sunday.
Auroras occur when large numbers of charged particles from the sun encounter Earth's magnetic shield. Most of these particles get corralled toward the Poles, where they slam into atmospheric gases such as nitrogen and oxygen, releasing energy visible as colored light.

Photograph courtesy Mark Nolan

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