Watch: Meteor Streaks Across French Antilles, Leewards

At approximately 8:40 PM on Sunday 26th April 2020, a bright meteor streaked across the night sky, lighting up between Martinique to as north as Anguilla and as west as Puerto Rico.

Generally, the GOES-16 Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) would have detected the flash from the meteor’s entry, as the rock burnt upon entering the atmosphere. This was not the case for this meteor entry.

Meteor Spotted Across Guadeloupe (Video: Gessy Garcia)

As of 10:30 PM Sunday, a brief and bright flash of light has been reported from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint. Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Gustavia, and Puerto Rico

Flash of Meteor Seen at Gustavia. (Video: Jordan Blanchard)

According to one report in Guadeloupe, the meteor was seen with a “big red trail with a very bright white ball ahead.” Meteors with a red trail typically indicate a high magnesium content as it burns through the atmosphere.

Meteor and meteorite strikes are more common than you might think. Dust-grain size meteoroids strike the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly, but they often go unnoticed. Meteoroids between a millimeter and a centimeter burn up in the atmosphere and appear to us as shooting stars.

Larger strikes are less common—a one-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth once each year on average and would reach the ground as smaller debris, while a 100-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth approximately every 10,000 years, according to a Tufts University fact sheet. Meteoroids over 1 kilometer hitting Earth are catastrophic events that occur every 1 million years on average.

Infographic: What’s the Difference Between a Comet, Asteroid and Meteor? Credit: Universe Today
Infographic: What’s the Difference Between a Comet, Asteroid and Meteor? Credit: Universe Today

Meteoroids do not discriminate where they land, nor where they enter the earth’s atmosphere. Hence, it is well within the realm of possibility that events such as this could happen across Trinidad, Tobago or any of the other Caribbean islands.

But medium-size strikes can be dramatic spectacles—and in some cases, dangerous. The Chelyabinsk meteor that struck southern Russia in February 2013 blew out windows and caused indirect injuries to almost 1,500 people. You can read about other coverage of celestial events in the Caribbean here.

The Lyrids Meteor Shower

This meteor shower had one final treat for the Eastern Caribbean and Greater Antilles, generally running from April 15th to April 26th.

The source of the meteor shower are particles of dust shed by the long-period Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The April Lyrids are the strongest annual shower of meteors from the debris of a long-period comet, mainly because as far as other intermediate long-period comets go (200–10,000 years), this one has a relatively short orbital period of about 415 years.

The shower usually peaks around April 22 and the morning of April 23. Counts typically range from 5 to 20 meteors per hour, averaging around 10. As a result of light pollution, viewing in Trinidad and Tobago is hampered. with observers in rural areas (Eastern Trinidad) will see more than observers in a city.

Nights without a moon in the sky will reveal the most meteors. April Lyrid meteors are relatively faint. However, some meteors can be brighter, known as “Lyrid fireballs”, cast shadows for a split second, and leave behind smokey debris trails that last minutes. Each hour about 5 to 20 meteors zoom through the skies, at speeds 172,800 mph.

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