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!
Despite the 50% chance of a thunderstorm and a full moon, I and my UP AstroSoc friends braved our way to Bataan last August to observe this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak event.
We stayed at Stella Maris Beach Resort in Bagac to observe overnight.
The sky was totally overcast when we came. Nevertheless, we were fortunate that the Full Moon was already low in the west when the eastern sky cleared up around 3:00 to 5:00 AM just in time for the Perseids.
We were able to spot a few fireballs zooming across the region near Perseus and around the Winter Hexagon. The highest meteor count that we had was 23.
We also got to observe Jupiter (with its Galilean Moons!) and the planet Mars though a friend’s Dobsonian telescope which we fondly call Lulin.
Here are some images of Jupiter taken through afocal method:
We finished our Perseid viewing at dawn and left the place a couple of hours after to tour around Bataan. Some of the places we visited were the Bagac Friendship Tower, Dunsulan Falls in Pilar, and the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) at the summit of Mt. Samat.
Mount Samat was the site of the most vicious battle against the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942 during the Battle of Bataan. The shrine there was built as a symbol of courage and gallantry to all Filipino soldiers who shed their blood in defending our beloved country to foreign invaders. I felt honored to have been able to visit this place and pay respect to my fellow Filipinos who died during the war.
Going at the top of Mount Samat was the best experience ever! It felt like I can almost touch the clouds with my two bare hands when I was up there. I also love the cool gentle breeze and the nice view (you can see the whole town of Bataan and the Manila Bay from there). My friends and I were very excited as we climbed up the stairs going up the cross. It was a bit tiring though.
Overall, I consider this trip as one of the most memorable trips I ever had. 🙂 Aside from successfully catching the Perseids despite of the bad weather, we were also blessed with a great opportunity to visit some of the historical places in the country and experience nature at its finest. It was truly a sweet escape!
Thanks to Elaine, Kiel, Bea, Josh, Saeed, Ron and Pinyong for being with me in this endeavor. 🙂
*All images above courtesy of Bea Banzuela
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! 🙂
Despite the 50% predicted cloud cover and significantly large uncertainty in the precise time of the peak, I and some of my orgmates in UP AstroSoc tried our luck in observing the first meteor shower of the year during the night of January 3 until the dawn of January 4, 2011. According to British meteor astronomer Alastair McBeath, the narrow peak of this shower is predicted to occur some time between 2100 UT on 3 January (5AM on January 4) and 0600 (UT) on 4 January 2011 (2PM on January 4), however the radiant of the shower is very low in the evening hours, and will rise higher towards dawn so the best time to view this event in the Philippines was during the predawn hours of January 4.
This was my first time to observe the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Unlike the other popular annual meteor showers like the Perseids, Leonids and the Geminids, this shower is expected to be less spectacular due to lower activity and unfavorable position of the radiant to a country near the equator like the Philippines. Nevertheless, the moonless night during January 4 and 5 enticed me to give it a chance.
We chose to observe in Marikina City, at a friend’s house which has a roof deck. From there, we had a fine view of the north and eastern sky wherein most of the Quadrantids are expected to pass.
The radiant of the meteor shower which is found a little below the Big Dipper and beside the constellation Bootes, was set to rise at around 1AM of January 4. While waiting, we spent the time preparing our simple reclining chairs and sleeping bag which we intend to use as a mat where we could lie down. We also set up our organization’s 4.5″ Meade Reflector — which we fondly called Datascope — to look for deep sky objects. We pointed it first at the famous stellar sisters, the Pleaides or M45, in Taurus. We enjoyed stargazing and constellation-hopping because the sky was fairly clear then.
At around 1:30 AM, I saw my first Quadrantid. 😀 It was a short and swift one having a thin trail and a pale bluish big head, typical of a Quadrantid meteor. It passed between the pointer stars, Dubhe and Merak in Ursa Major. It was an amazing scene!
After about 30 minutes, patches of clouds began to block our view. We decided to pause our observation for a while to pick up a friend who would join us.
We continued on our observation with a less cloudy sky (around 40% cloud cover) by 3:20 AM during which we saw another Quadrantid passing near Corona Borealis. Another one zoomed past by the Bootes at 4 AM.
At 5 AM (21:oo UT), during the time of the peak we saw more meteors flying across the northeast in between cloud gaps of the 50-60 % clouded sky. In my previous post, I calculated for the number of meteors that could be seen given the 50% cloud cover and 4.0 limiting magnitude using the formula given by IMO. The actual meteor count we got during the peak is 6, which was relatively comparable to the 8 meteors per hour which I had calculated. 🙂
By 5:40 AM, we also saw one artificial satellite flying from the northwest. During this time, Venus and Mercury were already shining high in the east though they seemed to disappear from time to time as clouds pass in front of them. We also took sometime to capture a few bright constellations like my favorite, Crux in the south.
We ended our observation at past 6:00 AM when the Sun started to climb up in the east. A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we finished our observation and ate our breakfast — McChicken Fillet Meal from McDonalds — courtesy of our friend Saeed, who had his birthday during that observation.
The following night two of my fellow UP AstroSoc friends — Bea and Aaron — went to Seven Suites Hotel Observatory in Antipolo City, accompanied by some of our UP AstroSoc associates, to observe the Quadrantids from there. The sky there offers a more favorable viewing condition because it was farther from the light-polluted city. They were even lucky to have less cloudy sky during that night. 🙂
Below are some of the pictures taken during their observation at the Seven Suites Hotel Observtaory. All images are by Bea Banzuela.
I never expected that this event would turn out to be another memorable and fun observation. 🙂 Thank you, UP Astrosoc!
To all those who were able to say hello to this year’s Quadrantids, congratulations and good luck on your observation of the next meteor shower. 😀