Sky-event preview: The 2009 Lyrid meteor shower
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks April 22, and conditions favor a great display.
April 17, 2009
The annual Lyrid meteor shower reaches its highest activity a few hours before dawn April 22. "The Lyrids peak just 2 days before New Moon, so conditions could hardly be better," says Astronomy magazine Senior Editor Rich Talcott. Observers under dark skies could see up to 20 meteors per hour.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks this year during the predawn hours of April 22. Observers under dark skies could see up to 20 meteors per hour.
Photo by Astronomy: Roen Kelly
Meteor showers offer everyone, not just avid amateur astronomers, a chance to witness a cosmic spectacle.
Named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to radiate, the annual Lyrid shower produces the bulk of April's meteors. The shower remains active between April 16 and 25. Astronomers predict the shower will peak in the predawn hours of April 22.
Lyra is easy to find because it's marked by the brilliant blue-white star Vega. Vega ranks fifth brightest of all nighttime stars.
It's best to view meteor showers without optical aid. Viewers should use just their eyes, so as not to restrict the field of view. Before midnight, face eastward, and look about halfway up. After midnight, looking overhead will probably net you the most meteors.
Lyrid rates vary from year to year, with the peak averaging around 20 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. More often than not, the highest level of activity lasts only a few hours. The radiant lies in the constellation Lyra, near its border with Hercules. Although this area rises before midnight, the best time to view the Lyrids comes in the 2 or 3 hours before dawn. As always, you'll see more meteors if you observe from a dark location.
Lyrid meteors are fast and average as bright as the Big Dipper's stars. These particles we see as meteors originated from Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1).
Meteor showers are great social and family events. Organize a group of skygazers, and head out of town to a dark location. Bring lawn chairs, sleeping bags, and hot drinks to stay warm. Plan to wear winter clothing — many observers are surprised at the chill of spring's late-night air.
|Additional meteor-shower observing resources from Astronomy.com|