You don’t always need screens or stages to see a great show. In fact, sometimes you need the opposite. No electronics and no lights, just you and the dark, sparkly sky above.
In April, the Lyrid meteor shower will provide an awesome viewing experience. It will be here from April 16 to April 30, but the peak will be before dawn April 22.
Meteor showers come from comets. Comets are giant snowballs of ice, rock and metal particles that rotate around the sun. Some can be several miles in diameter.
The Comet Thatcher, the source of the Lyrid meteor shower, was discovered in 1861 by A.E. Thatcher. It is a long-period comet, and it takes 415 years to orbit around the sun. Short-period comets orbit the sun in less than 200 years.
All comets leave behind particles called meteoroids. These particles can be as small as a grain of sand, as large as a boulder or anywhere in between. As the earth rotates, we pass by these areas of debris and particles at the same time every year. When these pieces of debris interact with Earth’s atmosphere, we see magical meteors shoot across the sky.
A meteor is a meteoroid that enters our atmosphere. If it is vaporized, or converted from its solid form into vapor, we also call them shooting stars. If it is not vaporized but falls and lands on the Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Although Comet Thatcher was only discovered 159 years ago, we know people have been enjoying the Lyrid meteor shower for the past 2,700 years. The Lyrid meteor shower is so named because it appears within the constellation Lyra. Lyra is named after the musical instrument the lyre, or harp. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation and the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere. All the meteors during the Lyrid meteor shower seem to radiate from this star. This bright star will also help guide your eyes to the right spot.
To view the Lyrid meteor shower, first you need to travel away from light pollution. Bring along sleeping bags, blankets, pillows and a Thermos of hot chocolate or tea. Find a comfy spot and settle in. Lie with your feet facing east. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness and keep looking up to view the meteors.
The peak viewing will be before the sun rises on Wednesday, April 22. Fortunately, it is a new moon the following day, so the sky will be darker than if the moon was present. If the clouds stay away, it should be spectacular!
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