This week, the usually spectacular Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks. Unfortunately, the numbers of visible meteors will be somewhat diluted by the presence of the full moon in the sky during the peak viewing times.
Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to go out on the night of Thursday 21 April. Some of the dimmer meteors will definitely be lost in the moon’s glare. But the Lyrids are always spectacular, some brilliantly stunning. These brighter meteors will cut through all the haze and glare to amaze as they slice through the atmosphere in a blaze of brilliance, severing the night with a gleaming blade.
A meteor shower occurs when the orbit of Earth passes through the debris field left behind by some long-past passing comet. As the abandoned ice particles strike our atmosphere, they burn up, giving us a unique opportunity to witness the faceted wonders of planetary science close up.
Go out the following morning, on Friday 22 April, and look to the east before the light of twilight begins to enter the predawn sky, away from the Moon. This may be the best opportunity to see the meteors, as Lyra, for which the shower is named, the harp amongst the stars, is directly overhead. With good, clear conditions, you may see a very bright meteor about every couple of minutes.
Three nights later, at midnight on Sunday 24 April, the Moon will pass very near Mars. Though not one of the closest pairings, take this opportunity to view the red planet, as it has slowed to a stop in the sky, as we explored last week.
The following night, Monday 25 April, the waning moon will lie in a very crowded area of space indeed. With a ten degree circle, it will be accompanied by Mars, Saturn, and brilliant Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. lying closest to Saturn.
And while you observe this race across the heavens, keep an eye out for a stay or errant Lyrid meteor, for the although the peak is a few days past, the sky will be a bit darker with a fading moon, and the shower usually continues nearly a week beyond the projected peak date.
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