A Lyrid meteor captured by NASA astronaut Don Pettit out the window of the International Space Station on April 21, 2012. Via Universe Today.)
Ever since we visited the Hayden Planetarium in December, the munchkin has been fascinated by space. And while this morning’s blood moon happened behind a cloudy sky here in Vermont, fingers crossed we won’t miss the annual Lyrid meteor shower.
What are Lyrid Meteors?
Lyrid meteors come from the comet Thatcher. Every year in late April our planet crosses Thatcher’s orbital path and debris from the comet bombards our upper atmosphere at around 110,000 miles per hour. As these bits of rubble blaze through the night sky they get so hot that they vaporize, producing light in the process. Sometimes these streaks of light are called “shooting stars,” but they’re really meteors. There’s actually a great song about this by “They Might Be Giants,” which is currently on heavy rotation in the munchkin’s playlist. :)
When Should We Look Up?
This year the Lyrid shower is going to be visible between the 16th – 25th of April, though it is supposed to peak overnight on the 22nd sometime between 12AM-3AM. Light from the quarter moon may wash out some of the meteors in terms of visibility, but I’m thinking this will still be cool enough to justify a special “staying up late” occasion for the munchkin (especially since it’s going to be school vacation that week!). The Lyrids usually display around 20 meteors per hour and the brightest ones will still be visible. So, if it’s a clear night out, we’re breaking out a picnic blanket in the backyard along with a thermos of hot chocolate and some snacks.
Where to Look:
According to EarthSky.org, the focal point of the Lyrid meteor shower will be near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp. If you need help orienting yourself in the night sky, we love the iPhone app Star Chart, which shows you the constellations when you point your phone at the sky!