Lyrid meteor shower to become active over Earth for part of April
With many new watchers of the skies due to our stay-at-home orders being lifted, get ready for the second major meteor shower of 2021.
This week, the Earth will move into the orbital plane of Comet Thatcher, Comet C/1861 G1, the parent body of the Lyrid meteor shower.
Comet Thatcher passed very close to Earth on May 5, 1861, and has an orbital period of 415 years.
At that time, the comet came within 31,000.000 miles of us and later produced a very strong meteor shower.
This was not the first time that the Lyrid shower had been observed as the Chinese recorded this shower as far back as 687 B.C.
The comet is expected to return to perihelion in the year 2276, but in the meantime we get to see the next display of Lyrid activity later in the week.
With the weather helping to warm us here in Arizona, I suggest that you begin your Lyrid viewing party, with suggested distancing, as early as April 20.
The Lyrids have had some amazing outbursts in the past.
Back in 1803, Virginia residents observed what looked like small rockets shooting across the night sky. Many feared that a large fire was underway in the nearby fields.
On average, and in years with little or no moon to interfere, you can expect to see at least 20 Lyrid meteors per hour.
I suggest that you begin your observations by looking to the northeastern sky, after midnight on the nights of April 21-22.
The meteors will seem to appear moving out of the area around the bright star Vega.
Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra the Harp.
You may want to begin your observations of the Lyrid shower earlier than the peak dates listed above, as the light of the moon with be a factor.
Begin the search as early as the night of the 13th, as you will be favored with dark skies.
Here is a basic finder chart for the Lyrid meteor shower.
The best of your Lyrid watch will occur during the early morning hours of April 22 from 1 a.m. till dawn. By that time, the radiant of the Lyrids will be very high in the northeast sky.
While you are waiting for Lyrid meteors, take a closer look at the bright star Vega.
Vega is an amazing star by itself as it lies some 25 light years from us.
That means that the light you see tonight left the star in 1996. Do you remember what you were doing back then?
The night sky is simply a magnificent time machine with all objects at different distances and all in motion.
Vega is a rather young star, as far as stellar ages. It is only around 450 million years old compared to the sun, which is around 4.6 billion years old.
Vega was the first star, other than our sun, to be photographed back on July 16, 1850.
Vega rotates on its axis around 11 hours time at 2.1 times the mass of the sun, making it appear to bulge at its equator.
One last Vega fact is that astronomers have discovered a disk of material around this hot star, which may contain asteroids or small planets.
The “star” of the movie “Conact” is the star Vega.
Hope you get to see many Lyrids in clear and dark skies.
To print your own monthly star chart, click here.
To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.
Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.