Lyrids Meteor Shower 2013

The best time to see the Lyrid meteor shower is very early on Monday morning after the moon has set, just before dawn. At its peak exepect 10-20 meteors per hour. They will originate in the sky near Vega in the constellation Lyra. The above picture shows the peak time around 3:30 AM monday April 21. Created with Stellarium

 

My fellow sky viewers,

I am a night owl by nature, so I tend to be up in the late hours of the morning. Just seems natural to develop a tendancy to watch meteor showers.. 🙂 The next one is tonight April 21, 2013. It is not one of the best (my personal favorite is Geminids in December) but the Lyrids Meteor Shower is one not to miss. While it might not be spectacular with only 10-20 per hour at its peak, but a chance to see meteors.. I just cant pass it up.

While you might see a few meteors in the early evening, say after 11 pm when Vega and the Lyrid radiant first come up in the easters sky, viewing will be difficult because the moons light will drown out most of them. The waxing gibbous moon will set in the early hours before dawn however, leaving a good 1-2 hour viewing window with dark skies.

The good news is that is the same time the Lyrid meteor radiant will be at the best viewing angle the point in the sky from which the shower members appear to radiate, is highest.

If you’re game for a look, head out Monday morning April 22 from about 3:30 to 5 a.m. toting a proper cup of tea or coffee. Make sure you’re bundled up for the weather and get cozy in a reclining lawn chair under a blanket or sleeping bag. Some meteor watchers prefer just watching spread-eagled on the ground. Face south or east and enjoy the grand vista of the summer stars and the fun surprise of an occasional meteor.

A bit of Comet Thatcher burning up in the atmosphere as a meteor shot from the window of the International Space Station over the Caribbean Sea April 21, 2012. Credit: NASA

While the late winter and spring constellations grace the evening sky, if you’re out before dawn, the Earth will have rotated those has-beens off to western horizonland. In the east and south, behold Scorpius, Sagittarius and the Summer Triangle.

Lyrids are the dusty, pebbly debris left behind by Comet Thatcher, discovered by American amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher in 1861. Every spring for at least the past 2,700 years, Earth has passed through the trail, thrilling countless sky watchers with the sight of flaming dust and grit.

Heated by their passage near the sun, comets shed gas, ice, dust particles and rocks. If the comet’s orbit intersects Earth’s some of material strikes our atmosphere and we see a meteor. Credit: National Science Foundation

Lyrid meteors strike the upper atmosphere 60 miles overhead at better than 107,000 mph (173,000 km/sec) and burn up in eye-catching flashes. Typical meteoroids – the name given to meteors before they hit the atmosphere – range in size from grains of sand to walnuts. The bigger they are, the brighter.

While Lyrid numbers are modest, the shower occasionally surprises as it did in 687 B.C. when the Chinese reported “stars fell like rain.” More recently in 1982, a brief burst of 90 meteors per hour was observed.

So you never know. The only way to find out what the Lyrids will be up to in 2013 is to be there.

How to view the Lyrid meteor shower:

Timing:  The best time to view the Lyrids will be late tonight (Sunday) in the short time after the moon has set and before the sun rises.  You can calculate local moonset here.

Location: Since the moon’s light will be especially strong this year, it is important to get away from city lights and find clear skies.  Dark Sky Finder is a website that shows light pollution in and around North American cities. Clear Sky Chart is a 48-hour astronomer’s forecast that can predict whether the sky will be clear and dark at a certain place.

Where to look: NASA scientists suggest not looking directly at Lyra, but to lie comfortably back and gaze at all parts of the sky.  Observers should watch for persistent strains, tails of ionized gas that will glow for a few seconds after about one in four Lyrid meteor has passed.

Patience: The Lyrid meteor shower is not considered a major shower, so observers should not get their hopes up too high.  Ten to 20 meteors per hour can mean three to six minutes between meteors

Geminids Meteor Shower – December 13, 2010

I am not an avid sky watcher, but I do like to enjoy sitting in the hot tub at night watching the stars and smoking a big fat stogie.

Over the past few nights, I have been noticing more and more shooting stars, and to my surprise tonight was spectacular. So impressive that I had to look it up just to see what was going on. In the hour that I saw out there, I saw dozens and dozens of shooting stars. Some were quite spectacular, like this one, that trailed sparkling dust across half the sky, and then broke up into several pieces.

Now some were just mere specs, and if you blinked you would miss them, but for the most part, the trails went a quarter of the night sky. Very bright, and moving very fast.

If you have never seen a meteor shower, I would urge you to look up when the next one is supposed to happen, and take the time to check it out. I would compare the excitement to watching a good fireworks display, only the show keeps on going all night long.

So what is the Geminids Meteor Shower?

I would have to say that this is one of the best meteor showers of the year. I do not get the chance to often watch them, but this one never seems to disappoint.

This shower gets its name “Geminids” because the star trails seem to come from the constellation Gemini. For us observers in the  in the Northern Hemisphere these meteors start becoming visible as early as December 6, when one meteor every hour or so could be visible. I personally counted about 3-4 an hour this year. During the next week, rates increase until a peak of 50-80 meteors per hour is attained on the night of December 13/14. Tonight as I recall, there were at least 50-60 in the hour that I was watching around 3 AM CST. The last of the Geminids meteors can be seen on December 18, when an observer might see a rate of one every hour or so.

If you see some falling stars, keep in mind that there are other, weaker meteor showers going on at the same time as this one from Gemini. To know if you indeed are seeing a Geminids meteor, imagine a line backwards and trace it across the sky, and if you end up in Gemini, then its probably a Geminid Meteor! If you are not sure where Gemini is in the sky, the following charts will help you find it from the Northern Hemisphere.

If you missed this one, dont worry, you will have more chances to see some great star trails.

2011 Meteor Showers

Name Date of Peak
Quadrantids night of January 3
Lyrids nights of April 21/22
Eta Aquarids night of May 5,6,7
Perseids night of August 11,12
Orionids night of October 21
Leonids night of November 17
Geminids night of December 13

NOTES These are approximate times for the Lower 48 states; actual shower times can vary. Bright moonlight makes it difficult to see all but the brightest meteors.