The annual Lyrid meteor shower will peak tonight (April 21) and early Monday, but the moon’s bright light may spoil the celestial fireworks display.
The Lyrid meteor shower occurs each year in mid-April when the Earth passes through a trail of dusty debris from the Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which orbits the sun once every 415 years. Humans have been observing this particular meteor shower for at least 2,600 years.
Typically, the Lyrid meteor shower is a relatively faint stargazing event, though observers with clear dark skies away from city lights can usually spot up to 15 or 20 meteors an hour. The meteors appear to radiate out of the constellation Lyra (hence their name), which can be found in the eastern night sky tonight.
The moon is expected to spoil much of this year’s Lyrid meteor display because it is currently in its bright gibbous phase, with the lunar disk nearly 85-percent illuminated, according to SPACE.com’s stargazing columnist and meteorologist Joe Rao. That means that moonlight will likely wash out fainter Lyrid meteors, with only the brightest streakers being visible.
The best time to seek Lyrid meteors is actually in the wee hours of Monday morning (April 22) after the moon has set, but before the sun rises. This observing window opens at about 4 a.m. your local time and can close by about 4:30 a.m. At that time the Lyrid radiate will nearly directly overhead in the night sky, Rao explained.
Published: 04/21/2013 07:33 AM EDT on SPACE.com
Images: Lyrid meteors will appear to radiate (red circle) from a point near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. This map shows the sky facing southeast around 3:30 a.m. April 22 – around the time of meteor maximum. Stellarium / This sky map shows where to look in the eastern night sky on night of April 21 and the predawn hours of April 22 for the 2013 Lyrid meteor shower.