Lyrid meteor shower peaks this week

Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week
Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week

Look up. The Lyrid meteor shower is happening above you right now. This annual night light show is expected to peak just before midnight on Wednesday night, Apr. 22, and into the early morning hours of Thursday, Apr. 23.

"The Lyrids themselves are caused by comet Thatcher, which in recorded history was seen around 1861," Mitzi Adams, an astrophysicist with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, told "But the comet has a 415-year cycle orbit. We won't see it again until about 2276 coming close into the sun."

What we do see every year is the comet's debris: balls of dust, dirt, grains of sand. In the case of the Lyrids, the debris is tiny - Adams said a pea-sized one would be large - traveling at 110,000 miles an hour. (They're pretty speedy, though not as fast as the Perseids, which move at 130,000 miles an hour and come around in August.) The Lyrid meteor shower happens each April, usually from the 16th through the 25th.

The 2015 showing isn't expected to have what Adams described as outbursts, hundreds of meteors per hour, but rather an average of 15 or 20 per hour. And the weather in most places won't be a hindrance. "Except for scattered clouds, particularly in southern Florida, most of the East Coast should have good viewing conditions," according to Chris Dolce, a digital meteorologist. "Portions of the Plains and Rockies will also have minimal cloud cover."

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Not everywhere across the country is as lucky. "Cloud cover from a southward dip in the jet stream will make viewing the meteors difficult from the Great Lakes southward to near the Ohio Valley," Dolce added.

Adams, who is located in Huntsville, Alabama, said clear weather down south should let star-gazers see the meteors -- and be a nice change of pace. "We've been having rain, rain and more rain. We actually have sunshine today," she said. "It looks like we might actually have a good chance, tonight anyway, of seeing the meteor shower."

The moon will help, too. It's a waxing crescent, meaning just a sliver will show and it won't be too bright, leaving a big stage to showcase Thatcher's debris. "The sky will be very dark and it'll be much easier to see the meteors," Adams said.

No special equipment needed to see these "shooting stars." Binoculars and telescopes just limit your line of sight, and it's unlikely for a meteor to pass by that exact location. Instead, just look up, Adams noted. "Get yourself a nice insulated pad, put it on the ground, get a nice warm sleeping bag and curl up."

The next big meteor shower of the year will be the Perseids, July 13 to August 26. For a full list of this year's showers, check out the American Meteor Society. Also check out NASA's Space Environments and Effects Program, which predicts the risk to orbiting satellites from meteor showers like the Lyrids.

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