Nevada – California Fireball Photographed

Image Near Reno of the Minivan Sized Bolide that Exploded over California
Image Credit: Lisa Warren

Estimated to have released the energy equivalent to a 5 kiloton nuclear bomb when it exploded over the Central Valley of California, a minivan sized meteor was photographed (above) as it passed East to West over the Sierra Nevada mountains near Reno Nevada, around 8:00 AM Phoenix time last Sunday (1500 UTC).

The bolide, or extremely bright meteor, weighed around 70 tons, according to Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environments Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Lyrid Meteor Shower in April

Sky Map Locating the Lyrid Meteor Shower
Image Credit: Starry Night Software

With the Moon out of sight, the early morning of 22 April, will provide good seeing for the Lyrid meteor shower. These meteors are the result of the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). Thatcher has an elliptical orbit, with a period of about 415 years. It will return in 2276. Space Weather has a good article about the Lyrids.

This year, the peak is expected on the evening of 21 April and the early morning of 22 April after midnight. The shower can last from 16 – 25 April. Typically, there are 10 to 20 meteors per hour. However, there is a large variation in the density of the shower. NASA has a long article (from the North American Meteor Network) concerning the shower and other events, and quotes an 1803 description from a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia on April 23rd, 1803:

Shooting stars. This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets…

For the techies on the audience, the radiant at maximum is at 271 degrees, i.e. RA 18h 04m, Dec +34, which is about halfway between theta and nu Hercules, and not actually in the constellation of Lyra at all.