The Lyrids are here! Maximize your meteor count!
Our bustling solar system is littered with rocky particles of space debris known as meteoroids. Although most are unimpressive in size, these pebble-sized pieces of cosmic clutter can still put on quite a show for earthbound observers.
When a meteoroid plunges into the Earth’s atmosphere, it is traveling at phenomenal speeds. The drag caused by the air it encounters, heats both the meteoroid and the air molecules. This intense interaction ionizes surrounding atmospheric gases to create the fleeting glowing trails of light we know as meteors.
Although the potential is there on any given night, witnessing a sporadic meteor is not a frequent experience for most. Luckily, some cyclical celestial objects like comets and asteroids leave behind streams of orbiting debris that the Earth will cross paths with on a regular basis. When this happens, meteor activity increases noticeably and, sometimes, dramatically. Known as meteor showers, these predictable events are a great time to try and catch multiple shooting stars.
Lyrid meteor shower peaks this week
This week one of the oldest meteor showers on record is taking its annual turn in the skies. The Lyrids, which are caused by the Earth’s passage through debris left behind by Comet Thatcher, are set to peak in the predawn hours of Wednesday, April 22nd with an average hourly meteor count between 10 and 20. This peak coincides with the New Moon, which means the show will take place on the darkest stage.
Especially favorable for the northern hemisphere, the Lyrids appear to radiate from a point near the bright star Vega in the Lyra constellation. However, observers should actually look at a dark patch of sky about 90 degrees away from the radiant point to see the most meteors. To view the Lyrid meteors, which have been known to briefly leave behind glowing dust trails, all you need is your naked eye and a good place to lie down under an open sky. For more meteor shower viewing tips, see below: