LOOK UP TONIGHT! Lyrid Meteor Shooting Stars “Peak Viewing” Starts

Animation of the 2017 Lyrid meteor shower

When:Peak Viewing: April, 21, 22 and 23

Where: Summer Triangle in the eastern sky

This year’s second major meteor shower – the Lyrids – will radiate through the Summer Triangle*. It peaks in the morning hours of April 22. Patient observers will be rewarded with the sight of 18 meteors per hour before dawn from a dark sky location. 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.

*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). Find Vega and Lyra high in the eastern sky a few hours after midnight this month.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks the night of April 21/22. Observers using just their naked eye can expect to see up to 20 “shooting stars” per hour — an average of one every three minutes — at the Lyrids’ peak. So look up Friday night and early Saturday morning, the Lyrids, the first major meteor shower, and this should be an excellent year for viewing the Lyrids, according to AccuWeather. “It’s been three months since January’s Quadrantids, the last major meteor shower, so I think we’re primed for a show,” said Bob King of Sky and Telescope. If clear skies prevail Saturday morning, viewers could see 10 to 20 meteors per hour under dark, moonless skies, he said. That’s an average of one every three minutes, according to Astronomy magazine.

The meteor shower sometimes bombards the sky with up to nearly 100 meteors per hour, Earthsky.org reports. “We’re not expecting an outburst this year but even catching a few meteors before dawn counts as a thrill,” said Bruce McClure of Earthsky.

Lyrids are pieces of debris from the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have been observed for more than 2,600 years, NASA said. In mid-April of each year, Earth runs into the stream of debris from the comet, causing the Lyrid meteor shower.

The Lyrids begin as tiny specks of dust that hit Earth’s atmosphere at 109,600 mph (176,400 km/h), vaporizing from friction with the air and leaving behind the streaks of light we call meteors. The meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the bright star Vega, which rises in late evening and passes nearly overhead shortly before dawn.

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