[Credit: Jimmy Westlake via NASA]
Dust off the lawn chairs and get ready for the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower which will occur Friday night into Saturday morning. This year’s second major meteor shower will radiate through the Summer Triangle. The Summer Triangle is made of the three bright stars: Deneb in Cygnus (the Swan), Altair in Aquila (the Eagle), and Vega in Lyra (the Lyre, or harp). You can find Vega and Lyra high in the eastern sky a few hours after midnight. Patient observers will be rewarded with the sight of about 18 meteors per hour before dawn from a dark sky location.
The Lyrids are best viewed after sunset and before dawn. Find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient, the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
Since the moon will be nearly to its new moon phase, expect excellent moon-less viewing conditions this year. The actual new moon is on April 26. Lyrids frequently leave glowing dust trains behind them as they streak through the Earth’s atmosphere. These trains can be observable for several seconds.
The Lyrids are known for their fast and bright meteors, though not as fast or as plentiful as the famous Perseids in August, Lyrids can surprise watchers with as many as 100 meteors seen per hour. Sightings of these heavier showers occurred in 1803 (Virginia), 1922 (Greece), 1945 (Japan), and 1982 (U.S.). In general, 10-20 Lyrid meteors can be seen per hour during their peak.
[Credit: NASA, 2014 Lyrid meteor]
The Lyrids, are one of the oldest known meteor showers. Observations have been observed for 2,700 years. The first recorded sighting of a Lyrid meteor shower goes back to 687 BC by the Chinese. The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the Lyrids originate from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. Comet Thatcher was discovered on 5 April 1861 by A. E. Thatcher.
[Credit: NASA JPL Small-Body Database]
The Lyrids were given their name from their radiant – the point in the sky from which the Lyrids appear to come from – the constellation Lyra, the harp. Lyrids appear to particularly radiate out from the star Vega. Vega is the brightest star within this constellation. One of the brightest stars in the night sky, Vega is easy to spot in even light-polluted areas.
[Credt: NASA/MSFC/Danielle Moser]
It is often better to view the Lyrids away from their radiant: They will appear longer and more spectacular from this perspective. If you do look directly at the radiant, you will find that the meteors will be short — this is an effect of perspective called foreshortening. The constellation for which a meteor shower is named only serves to aid viewers in determining which shower they are viewing on a given night. The constellation is not the source of the meteor.
The best viewing will likely be in the Western Great Lakes, parts of the Southeast, and much of the West. Clouds and rain will hamper viewing from the Northeast into the Central Plains.
For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels
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