Tonight: How to see the Lyrids, the 1st major meteor shower since January
By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
April 22, 2019, 1:51:56 PM EDT
Seeing a shooting star streak across the night sky can be a thing of beauty, and stargazers will have their chance to catch a few on Earth Day (April 22) during the first major meteor shower in months.
The Lyrids will end the long meteor shower drought that began in early January after the peak of the Quadrantids on Jan. 4, 2019.
Up to 20 meteors per hour will grace the night sky on the peak night of the Lyrids, which is expected on Monday night into the early hours of Tuesday morning. However, cloudy conditions may interfere with the viewing conditions for some stargazers.
This year's Lyrid meteor shower may be obscured by clouds across much of the central and midwestern United States.
"Viewing conditions Monday night will be hampered by a storm over the Central states," AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said.
"Worse than not being able to see the meteor shower, residents from northeastern New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle and into Oklahoma will face potentially damaging thunderstorms and flooding downpours on Monday night," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.
Clouds are also in the forecast for the Pacific Northwest and into western Canada.
Meanwhile, clear conditions across the Deep South and Southwest will provide stargazers with nearly ideal weather.
While Monday night will offer ideal viewing conditions for the mid-Atlantic, clouds will linger over New England.
This year, the nearly full moon will interfere with viewing conditions as it fills the night sky with natural light pollution most of the night. This will make it difficult to see some of the dimmer meteors associated with the Lyrids, reducing the overall number of meteors that will be visible.
Samuhel has some tips to help stargazers see as many shooting stars as possible despite the light from the moon.
“Do not look at the moon. Do anything to avoid looking at the moon and focus on a different part of the sky,” Samuhel said.
Onlookers should focus on the darkest parts of the sky far away from the moon, even if the area is not near the radiant point, or point of origin, of the Lyrids.
A common misconception about meteor showers is that you need to look directly at the radiant point to see a meteor shower when in fact, meteors will be visible in all areas of the sky.
“The radiant is not extremely important, but the higher in the sky it is, the better chance you have of seeing the meteors that streak in all directions from a common origin,“ Samuhel said.
The Lyrids are an annual meteor shower that can be traced back to comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. Every time the comet makes an orbit around the sun, it leaves behind a trail of debris. When the Earth passes through this field of debris, a meteor shower unfolds.
It is one of the longest-running meteor showers in recorded history.
“The Lyrid meteor shower has the distinction of being among the oldest of known meteor showers. Records of this shower go back for some 2,700 years. The ancient Chinese are said to have observed the Lyrid meteors falling like rain in the year 687 B.C.,” EarthSky explained on their website.
On overage, the shower delivers 10 to 20 meteors per hour, but it has been known to produce brilliant light shows in the past that fill the night sky with shooting stars.
“The Lyrids meteor shower has occasional outbursts with up to 100 meteors per hour,” Samuhel said.
However, an outburst like this is not anticipated this year.
Folks that miss the Earth Day meteor shower do not have to wait long for another opportunity to spot some shooting stars as the next meteor shower is just a few weeks away.
The Eta Aquarids will peak on the night of May 6 into the early morning of May 7, delivering up to 30 meteors per hour to the sky across the Northern Hemisphere and as many as 60 meteors per hour for those across the Southern Hemisphere.
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"There are probably not even half a dozen such objects in the Milky Way, and we have discovered one of them," one astronomer said.