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!