Although the Lyrid meteor shower is not known for its large number of meteors, it is a favorite among astronomers because its meteors are fast and bright. Moreover, some of them even leave behind a trail of glowing dust.
The Lyrid meteor shower can be seen in the night sky from April 15 to 29. Its peak, when you’ll see the most meteors, will be late Saturday, April 22 and early Sunday, April 23, according to NASA.
If the sky is clear and dark, you can expect to see 15-20 meteors every hour. They will travel at an incredible speed of 29 miles per second.
Why We See Meteor Showers
Comets, which are about “the size of a small town,” can be thought of as giant snowballs made of frozen gas with embedded rock and dust particles, NASA says.
When a comet approaches the Sun, it heats up and its ice begins to change from a solid to a gas. This produces what is called a “coma”, which is the fuzzy-shaped cloud surrounding the ice ball. The coma can be thousands of kilometers in diameter.
Then, radiation pressure from the Sun – or solar wind – “blows” the expanding coma to form the long tail that gives comets their distinctive shape.
As comets orbit the Sun, they leave a trail of rock debris and dust. As the Earth passes through these debris trails each year in its own orbit around the Sun, the debris particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, the particles disintegrate, creating streaks across the sky.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower
The Lyrid meteor shower occurs every April when Earth passes through the debris trail of a comet called C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered on April 5, 1861, by AE Thatcher. The comet takes 417 years to orbit the sun.
This is where the rest of the comet’s name comes from. Astronomers divide months into two – days 1 through 15 and 16 days at the end of the month – in what are called “half-months” to name newly discovered solar system bodies such as comets and stars. asteroids. These half-months are then labeled as successive letters of the alphabet. Early January, for example, is Aend of January is BAnd so on.
Since AE Thatcher discovered this comet, it bears his name. Also, the letter VS indicates that it is a long-period comet and is not expected to return to the inner solar system in less than 200 years. The “1861” indicates the year of discovery of the comet. Finally, the letter g notes that the comet was discovered in the first half of April, when 1 explains that it was the first comet discovered during this half-month period, continues NASA.
Interestingly, although the comet was only discovered in 1861, NASA reports that the first recorded sighting of the Lyrid meteor shower dates back to 687 BC, according to Chinese historical texts.
The Lyrid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Lyra because that’s where the striated meteors appear to originate from.
How to watch the Lyrid meteor shower
Since the Lyrid meteor shower lasts from April 15 to April 29, you can search for meteors on any of those nights. The optimal time to view the meteor shower will be during its late evening peak on Saturday April 22 and early Sunday April 23.
You’ll start seeing meteors around 10:30 p.m. on April 22, and the best viewing time will be after midnight, according to The Planetary Society.
Watching a meteor shower is simple. All you have to do is get out and lie on your back or lie on a chair with your feet facing east. Then just look at the night sky. After about 30 minutes your eyes will adjust to the darkness and you will begin to see meteors.
If you really want to increase your chances of seeing the Lyrid meteor shower, you’ll want to be somewhere dark – away from city lights – so you can see the sky more clearly. You can use EarthSky’s dark sky map to find places in your area that are optimal for stargazing.
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