Lyrid Meteor Shower Under Dark New-Moon Skies, Plus Mars and Saturn

ICTMN Staff
4/21/12

It's a veritable sky party on the night of April 21, as 15–20 or even more Lyrid meteors shower down hourly upon the skies of Mother Earth. A new moon means dark skies, which will make the brightest shooting-star show in a while, according to the experts. Elsewhere in the sky, Mars and Saturn will make an appearance as well.

December brings us the Geminids, and January the Quadrantids. The Orionids grace our skies in October. But tonight belongs to the Lyrids, as Mother Earth whips through the orbiting remnants of comet Thatcher. Unlike those other showers and last year's Lyrids, there will be no moonlight to blot them out, so the viewing could be spectacular.

Never fear if clouds obscure the view: NASA will be there to guide you, with a live video feed from the space agency's all-sky camera network as well as a web chat, "Lyrids Up All Night," during which NASA astronomer Bill Cooke will discuss the meteor shower starting at 11:00 p.m.

The Lyrids appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra, which will appear in the northeastern sky at midnight, according to Space.com. The shooting stars' peak activity will be around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

To watch, Cooke told Space.com, allow your eyes 40 minutes to get acclimated to the darkness. Then, recline either in a lawn chair or on the ground, and gaze at the sky, not at the constellation, he said. The farther from the constellation the meteors are, the more they will show up and the longer their tails will be.

"So you don't want to look at Lyra," Cooke said. "You just want to lie on your back and look straight up. Take in as much sky as possible."

Remember, meteors hold great places in Native history and spiritual lore. The great leader Tecumseh himself was so named when a meteor shot across the sky as the newborn cried out.

The Lyrids, Spaceweather.com points out, can shine even brighter than Venus, when conditions are right, leaving smokey, sometimes lingering, trails of debris.

To make things really interesting, NASA will attempt to photograph the meteors in 3-D—taking simultaneous shots "from ground stations, from a research balloon in the stratosphere, and from the space station," Cooke said in a NASA statement.

But that's not all. Mars and Saturn will be vying for our attention in the southeastern sky at dusk. Saturn will be visible all night, according to the Washington Post. Telescope views will yield the rings, which are at just the right angle from earth to be seen. The planet will be east/southeast after dusk and southerly at midnight in Virgo, the Post said.

Below, NASA talks about what makes the Lyrids so special.

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