Don't forget to look up: Lyrid meteor shower to peak early on Earth Day
By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
April 21, 2018, 4:08:09 AM EDT
Earth Day will bring one of the best meteor showers of the spring with as many as 20 meteors streaking across the sky every hour.
“The Lyrid meteor shower will be the first significant meteor shower in a few months,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said, noting that it will be the best display since January.
The best night to see the Lyrids will be the night of Saturday, April 21, into the early morning of Sunday, April 22, although some meteors will be able to be seen on the night before and the night after the shower’s peak.
When and where to look
Viewing this weekend's meteor shower will be easy for stargazers of all ages and will not require the use of binoculars or a telescope.
“The shower will be best viewed after midnight when the radiant is highest in the sky. “ Samuhel said.
The radiant point is the area in the sky from which the meteors originate. This weekend’s shower will radiate from east-northeast near the Lyra constellation, which is how the shower earned its name.
However, meteors will be visible streaking across all areas of the sky, not just to the east-northeast.
"Lay back and get as much of the sky in your view as possible, and just wait," Samuhel said.
Some people spending a night under the stars to view the meteors may even see a few fireballs, or extremely bright meteors that can light up the entire sky for a few seconds.
To maximize the number of meteors able to be seen, onlookers should head to a dark area where light pollution is minimal.
Even in the darkest areas away from city lights, the moon will bring some natural light pollution to the sky during the first part of the night.
“The moon will set around midnight on the peak night, making viewing conditions much better during the overnight hours,” Samuhel said.
Once the moon sets, the darker skies will make it easier to spot some of the fainter meteors.
The best viewing conditions on Saturday night are expected across much of the northeastern and southwestern United States where the sky will primarily be clear.
Meanwhile, a far-reaching system in the central U.S. will spread clouds across much of the nation's heartland and into part of the Appalachians.
Some clouds will also pass over the northwestern U.S., but there should be enough breaks in the clouds to allow for visibility of some meteors.
If cloudy conditions obscure the shower on Saturday night, people can also try to view the Lyrids on Sunday night.
Not as many meteors will be visible on this night, but rates may reach 10 to 15 meteors an hour.
Stargazers viewing the shower during the second half of the night will also be able to see Mars and Saturn in the southeastern sky.
Early morning viewers may also be able to spot Mercury just above the eastern horizon shortly before daybreak.
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People that miss this weekend’s meteor shower will have another opportunity to spot some meteors in a few weeks.
On the night of May 6 into May 7, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower will reach its peak as the Earth moves into the path of debris left behind by Halley’s Comet.
This shower favors the Southern Hemisphere, but those across the Northern Hemisphere should still be able to see some meteors, potentially more than the Lyrids.
“From the equator northward, [the Eta Aquarids] usually only produce medium rates of 10 to 30 per hour just before dawn,” the American Meteor Society said.
“From the equator to 25 degrees south, they can produce rates of 40 to 60 per hour just before dawn,” the American Meteor Society added.
Following the Eta Aquarids, the next major meteor shower is the Southern Delta Aquarids, which peaks in late July.
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