The heavens are aligning this month to bring the streak and the sparkle of one of the oldest recorded meteor showers: The Lyrids.
Stargazers have marveled at the Lyrids’ bright and fast meteors on spring evenings for nearly 2,700 years. The dazzling shooting stars will be visible to the naked eye over New York City and New Jersey from April 15-29, according to NASA.
The best views are from late evening until dawn on April 22-23, as the meteor shower peaks in the New York area. This period will coincide with a new moon, its dimmest phase. The combination means the sky appears darker and celestial objects look brighter.
“Almost all of them [meteors] are burning, high up in the atmosphere,” said Bart Fried, executive vice president of the Association of Amateur Astronomers of New York. “They look a lot closer than they are.”
A dark night is another good time to watch with the naked eye.
“Never, ever use binoculars for meteors,” Fried said. “They move too fast. By the time you put on your binoculars, the meteors will be gone.
Instead, Fried advised curious stargazing neophytes to go outside and watch the sky patiently for meteors while lying on their backs on a comfortable, warm blanket.
For the uninitiated, a meteor looks like a streak of light across the night sky, which tends to get brighter and brighter until it disappears abruptly.
Sometimes, meteor showers are so bright, they leave behind a trail of light that stays for moments after the meteors are gone.
At rare moments, these streams of cosmic debris can explode or transform into a fireball.
Normally, the Lyrids produce 10-20 streaks of light every hour, but this shower is also known for unusual and sudden bursts of activity that can reach up to 100 meteors hourly. A shower that heavy is rare and hasn’t happened for about 40 years.
“It’s worth hanging for an hour or two and you could get lucky,” Fried said. “Assuming we don’t have our ubiquitous clouds, it’s one of the better meteor showers for the year and very predictably good.”
Lyrid meteors are made of space debris and the remnants of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, first recorded in 1861 by A.E. Thatcher. While the comet comes around every 415 years on its orbit, its cosmic dust kicks up the Lyrids every April near the meteors’ namesake constellation Lyra, the harp.
To find the Lyrids, locate Lyra’s brightest star, the bluish-white Vega, which is also one of the shiniest stars in the evening sky, even in light-polluted New York City.
The Amateur Astronomers Association of New York will hold events to view the celestial light show throughout the city and in New Jersey.
On the night of the peak, the group will co-host a viewing, free and open to the public, at the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey Observatory, located in Jenny Jump State Forest near Hope, New Jersey.
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