Jonesing for a meteor shower? Friday night and early Saturday morning, the Lyrids, the first major meteor shower since January, will make an appearance in the night sky.
This should be an excellent year for viewing the Lyrids, according to AccuWeather, since the peak falls just a few days before the new moon, meaning light from the moon will not interfere much with viewing conditions.
"It's been three months since January's Quadrantids, the last major meteor shower, so I think we're primed for a show," said Bob King of Sky and Telescope. If clear skies prevail Saturday morning, viewers could see 10 to 20 meteors per hour under dark, moonless skies, he said. That's an average of one every three minutes, according to Astronomy magazine.
The meteor shower sometimes bombards the sky with up to nearly 100 meteors per hour, Earthsky.org reports. "We’re not expecting an outburst this year but even catching a few meteors before dawn counts as a thrill," said Bruce McClure of Earthsky.
The Lyrids begin as tiny specks of dust that hit Earth’s atmosphere at 109,600 mph, vaporizing from friction with the air and leaving behind the streaks of light we call meteors, Astronomy magazine reported. The meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the bright star Vega, which rises in late evening and passes nearly overhead shortly before dawn, the magazine said.
Lyrids are pieces of debris from the periodic Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have been observed for more than 2,600 years, NASA said. In mid-April of each year, Earth runs into the stream of debris from the comet, causing the Lyrid meteor shower.
The Lyrids are generally fast and bright and not only produce trains, but also occasional fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors, King added.
The shower's peak usually lasts just a few hours, but this year the predicted timing is good for North America, especially in the West, according to Sky and Telescope.
"You’ll want to watch the sky for an hour or more, so comfort is key," said Astronomy magazine's Richard Talcott. "Bring along warm clothes and a blanket. Reclining in a lawn chair is a great way to take in a lot of the sky at once, but be sure to get up and walk around occasionally."
The best viewing should occur between between 2 a.m. and dawn Saturday. The best viewing conditions Friday night will be across the western U.S. and western Great Lakes, where clear skies will lead to uninterrupted viewing conditions, AccuWeather said. Meanwhile, clouds will lead to poor viewing conditions for much of the East Coast, central Plains and Rocky Mountains.