The spring and summer meteor shower season starts this month with the Lyrid meteor shower, which runs April 16 to 25, and peaks Sunday, April 22. If the cloudy sky clears, Coloradans will get a fine view.
Start watching for the meteor shower on the night of Earth Day, at midnight April 21, through the early morning hours of Sunday, April 22. In Colorado skywatchers may also see them on the days before and after the height of the shower, if you find yourself a nice dark patch of sky.
At its peak, the Lyrids will produce between 15 and 20 meteors an hour.
The best time to see the show is early in the morning before dawn on Sunday, April 22. The moon will be out of the way and will have set before the Lyrids kick up, so depending on weather conditions in Colorado, this year’s show should be a winner.
The Lyrids are known to be fickle; but typically, they produce meteors with trails that last a few seconds and, occasionally, they deliver a few fireballs.
In some years, the shower intensifies in what’s called an “outburst,” producing up to 100 shooting stars.
All meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the path of a comet and collides with the trail of comet debris, making their occurrence predictable. They leave bright streaks — called 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 one — Lyrid outbursts might occur generally occur in 30-year intervals — NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke predicts an average show 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.
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.
See Also: 2018 Guide To Meteor Showers, Other Celestial Events
— By Beth Dalbey and Elizabeth Janney, contribution by Ashley Ludwig
Image credit: NASA/JSC/D. Pettit – taken from the International Space Station
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