The New Moon this month will guarantee the perfect dark sky to watch the Ancient April “shooting stars” called the Lyrid Meteor Shower or the Lyrids.
The Lyrids fall from Comet C1861 G1 Thatcher as the Earth passes through her tail. Activity from this meteor shower can be observed from 16 April to 25 April, but the perfect time to catch the Lyrids is during late night of the 21st to the early morning of the 22nd.
The Lyrids can offer a display of 10 to 20 per hour or have a surge of activity of up to 100 per hour.
The Lyrids, so named because they appear to originate from the constellation Lyra (The Lyre), have been observed in the night sky during mid-April for at least 2,500 years, NASA scientists say. On 21 – 22 of April you can see Lyra rise at around 11PM (local time) from the north east and continue to rise high into the sky towards the south east during the darkest hours of the night sky.
The fifth-brightest star of the sky, alpha Lyr, called Vega (arabic for “stone eagle”), radiates from the top of Lyra with a pure white colour. Together with alpha Cyg, Deneb , and alpha Aql, Atair, Vega forms the famous asterism, the Summer Triangle (shown above).
Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, which is bright enough to be visible from most cities, but you’ll see more and enjoy them more if you leave the city for a less light-polluted area where the stars shine brighter. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. Some Lyrids will be brighter, though, and the occassional “fireball” can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind glowing, smoky debris trails that last for minutes.
So, how do you watch these meteors? Like any other meteor shower event, watching the Lyrids requires no special viewing equipment like binoculars or telescopes. All you need is an open sky and a place to lie down and relax. Someplace dark, away from trees and buildings is best. Meteors zip across the sky, so the more sky you see the better. Gaze into the stars, and be patient. The best direction to watch is wherever your sky is darkest, usually straight up, perhaps with a little inclination toward the radiant.
As an observer, you can make a careful meteor count and report it to the International Meteor Organization. Such counts are analyzed to yield the shower’s zenithal hourly rate (ZHR), which is the number of meteors that a single observer would see per hour under ideal conditions: with the radiant directly overhead (at the zenith) and the sky dark enough to reveal 6.5-magnitude stars.
During Global Astronomy Month (GAM 2012), everyone is encouraged to observe the Lyrids and send in the reports of what they saw. You can also share your data by tweeting your postcode, your country (click here to find your country code) and, optionally, the meteor count along with the hashtag; #MeteorWatch (you are welcome to use GAM hastags as well – #GAM2012 #LyridsWatch)
The meteor data will appear in a map at MeteorWatch.org. This is an excellent way to get more immersed and socialize during your observations.
For Philippine observers located near Quezon City, the University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP AstroSoc) invites you to its Lyrids observation on April 21-22, 9PM-6AM at the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory Sundeck (located within the UP Diliman Campus).
The event is for free and open to all, so feel free to bring along with you your friends and family.
For more information, please visit UP Astrosoc’s Facebook fanpage.
Meteor showers can be a lot of fun, so I hope you see some good ones this coming weekend! Clear skies!
Tonight presents the expected peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower, from late night Friday (April 22) until dawn Saturday (April 23). Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.
Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, which is bright enough to be visible from most cities, but you’ll see more and enjoy them more if you leave the city for a dark place where the stars shine brighter. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. Some Lyrids will be brighter, though, and the occassional “fireball” can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind glowing, smoky debris trails that last for minutes. Lyrid meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second.
In observing these meteors, the hour before dawn is usually best, except that a bright waning gibbous moon will be lighting the sky hiding most of the fainter meteors in its glare. This year, it is more favorable to watch late at night, during the dark hour before moonrise.
Tweet your data!
You can also share your data by Tweeting your postcode, your country (click here to find your country code) and, optionally, the meteor count along with the hashtag; #MeteorWatch (you are welcome to use GAM hastags as well – #GAM2011 #LyridsWatch)
The meteor data will appear in a map at MeteorWatch.org
While the best meteor-watching will be late night through daybreak, it’s well worth staying outside just before sunrise for a beautiful planetary alignment will be joining the Lyrids.
Venus is so bright in the eastern sky you can’t miss it, and below it Mercury, Mars and Jupiter could be found hanging a few degrees away from each other. If you have hazy skies or live in an urban area, you may need binoculars to see Mars and Jupiter.
This planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.
Enjoy the show!
This month’s highlights:
- Saturn in the evening sky
- The 2011 Lyrid Meteor Shower
- Four Planets and a Crescent Moon in the morning sky
|Date||Event||Time (in PHT, UT+8)|
|5||Saturn at Opposition
– The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons.
|6||Jupiter in conjunction with the Sun||23:00|
|10||Mercury in inferior conjunction||04:00|
|11||First Quarter Moon||20:05|
|17||Moon at perigee (nearest distance to Earth)||14:00|
|21-22||Lyrid Meteor Shower*
– The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. This year, the gibbous moon will hide most of the fainter meteors in its glare. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight, and be sure to find a dark viewing location far from city lights.
|22||Mercury-Venus-Mars-Jupiter visual alignment
– Visible from April 25 to May 30
|23||Venus at Uranus at minimum separation (0.9 degrees)||dusk|
|25||Last Quarter Moon||10:45|
|27||Neptune 6 degrees south of the Moon||21:00|
|29||Four Planets and Crescent Moon in the morning sky
– On the last two mornings of the month, given a clear low eastern horizon, there will be four planets and a thin crescent Moon visible just above. You will need binoculars, so cease looking when the Sun has risen.
|31||Moon at apogee (farthest distance to Earth)||02:00|
*Check out the following links for more info:
- Lyrids Meteor Shower – AstronomyLive.com
- Lyrids Watch 2011 – GAM 2011 Events
- Lyrids – Spacedex.com
- Lyrids – MeteorShowersOnline.com
Lyrids Quick Facts:
A video guide on finding the constellation Lyra:
HubbleSite – Tonight’s Sky: April 2011
Clear skies to all and happy observing!