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One of the oldest known annual meteor showers, peaking early this week, may unfortunately be hindered by an almost-full moon.
The orbit of the Lyrid meteors strongly resembles that of Thatcher's Comet, which swung past us during the spring of 1861 and has an orbital period of approximately 415 years. In 1867, astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle confirmed the link between this comet and the Lyrids; the meteors that we see from this display are the tiny particles that were shed by the comet on its previous visits through the inner solar system.
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The April Lyrids have sometimes provided spectacular displays, as in 687 B.C., when Chinese records said "stars fell like rain," and it's happened at least a dozen other times since then. The story is often told of how residents of Richmond, Virginia, were rousted out of bed by the fire bell on the morning of April 20, 1803. The fire that had broken out in the armory was quickly extinguished, but this gave the townspeople a chance to see meteors falling in great numbers from all parts of the sky.
Event - Letter - Raleigh - North - Carolina
The event is also described in a letter published in the Raleigh, North Carolina, Register:
"We, the undersigned . . . being on Wednesday night, the 20th of April, out at a fishing party, and returning home about 1 o'clock a.m., were alarmed with the appearance of a shooting of stars; the whole hemisphere as far as the extension of the horizon seemed to be illuminated; the meteors kept no particular direction but appeared to move every way. We viewed the phenomenon for the space perhaps of half an hour with amazement, during which time no intermission appeared. We distinctly heard a hissing in the air but heard no reports. The above statements may be relied on...
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