Bieled Meteor Shower
In a couple of weeks’ time, we will be treated to the annual and spectacular Geminid meteor shower, however on this day in 1872 astronomers were going to witness one of the most spectacular meteor showers ever seen.
When a comet orbits the Sun it leaves a trail of dust behind it, if the Earth passes through this trail of dust we see lots of meteors or shooting stars. We see a meteor shower there are several good ones each year, and then sometimes there are surprises!
Comet Biela was seen on 27th February 1826, it had been seen earlier in 1772 and 1805. Its orbit was worked out to be about 6 ¾ years, it was seen again in 1832 but missed in 1839 due to unfavourable conditions. In 1846 it was observed to have split into two pieces. This had never been seen before.
When it returned in 1852 it was clearly two comets travelling together separated by about 1.5 million miles. Again conditions in 1859 were poor the return of 1866 was eagerly awaited but nothing was seen. Astronomers showed little interest in the return of 1872.
On November 27th 1872 the world was treated to a fantastic meteor shower of several thousand meteors per hour entering the Earth’s atmosphere and burning up.
There have been many searches to try to see if comet Biela is still orbiting the Sun, astronomers believe that there have been other major meteor outbursts connected with the comet in 524 AD, 1741, 1798, 1830, 1838 1885 and 2011.
There is even a suggestion that the great fire in Chicago in 1871 was caused by a piece of comet Biela crashing into a barn and starting the fire!
Will comet Biela ever visit us again in the future?