HUDSON VALLEY, NY – A shower of meteors is set to give the first celestial show of the spring starting this weekend, and weather conditionS look good for viewing. The Lyrid meteor shower runs April 16-25 but peaks Sunday, April 22.
The Hudson Valley’s weather conditions are perfect, with clear or mostly clear skies and temperatures at or slightly above freezing predicted through the weekend — though for good viewing you’d need to travel to an area with little light pollution.
The best time to see the show is before dawn on April 22. The moon will be out of the way having set before the Lyrids start.
The Lyrids are known to be fickle and unpredictable, but typically produce about 15 and 20 meteors an hour, many with trails that last a few seconds and, occasionally, a few fireballs. In some years, the shower intensifies in what’s called an “outburst” and produces up to 100 shooting stars.
The last Lyrid outburst was in 1982, according to Earthsky.org which said U.S. skywatchers were treated to a spectacular show that year.
And though the calendar might suggest we’re due for another great show — Lyrid outbursts might occur generally occur in 30-year intervals — NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke predicts an average one this year.
“People say there is some periodicity there,” Cooke told Space.com, “but the data doesn’t support that.”
One of the oldest showers on record, the Lyrids were detected in China around 687 BC, but its source, the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, wasn’t discovered until 1861. The meteor shower originates from the constellation Lyra to the northeast of Vega, one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky this time of year, but meteors will be visible from anywhere in the sky.
All meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the path of a comet and collides with the trail of comet debris. They leave bright streaks — called shooting stars.
Lyrid meteors are fast, but not as fast as the Leonids, which come in November, Cooke told Space.com.
“The Leonids hit us head on,” he said, while the “Lyrids are more like hitting the left front of the fender.”
Here’s what’s ahead through spring and summer:
May 6-7: The Eta Aquarids meteor shower, which runs from April 19-May 28, is an above average shower that can produce as many as 60 meteors an hour at its peak. It favors the Southern Hemisphere, but should still be a good show in the Northern Hemisphere with about 30 meteors an hour. A waning gibbous moon will be problematic, blocking out the faintest of the meteors. They radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but are visible from anywhere in the sky.
July 28-29: The Delta Aquarids meteor shower, produced by debris left behind by the comets Marsden and Kracht, runs from July 12-Aug. 23. It’s an average show, producing about 20 meteors an hour at its peak, but a nearly full moon will be problematic. The meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can be seen from any location in the sky. The best viewing times are after midnight.
Aug. 12-13: The annual Perseids meteor shower, which runs July 17-Aug. 24, is typically one of the best of the year, producing from 60 to 100 meteors an hour at its peak. The meteors are historically bright, and this should be a great year for skywatchers because a thin crescent moon should make for dark skies. The Perseids are produced by the comet Swift-Tuttle, discovered in 1862. The meteors fall between the constellations Perseus and Cassiopeia, but just look up and you should be able to see them from anywhere in the sky.
Written by Adam Nichols, Patch Staff and Beth Dalbey of Patch’s national staff, with additional reporting by Michael Woyton, Patch Staff.
Photo by lovemushroom via Shutterstock.
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