A Meteor Shower For The Eternal Optimist

The nearly full moon was a juicy cantelope last night as it rolled up from the horizon richly orange and alone in a big sky. I was surprised by the sight, and stopped right there in my walk for a few minutes of face to face. The wind blew like crazy but the moon kept its cool, mounting above the ponds and trees with its familiar, steady rhythm.

Leonid meteor streaking through Leo in 2001 — Bob King

Tomorrow morning before dawn the Lyrid meteor shower will be at its peak. Although the first notable shower of the year, the Lyrids (LYE-rids) are not for the faint of heart. They normally produce about 15-20 meteors per hour, but there are two challenges to would-be Lyrid watchers: you have to get out there from 3-4 in the morning, and second, the light from the nearly full moon will brighten up the sky, making it hard to see the fainter ones.

If you’re up for the challenge, then set your alarm, relax outside in a reclining chair under a blanket or sleeping bag, and look directly overhead. The meteors will appear to radiate from near the bright star Vega in the constellation of Lyra (LYE-ruh), hence the shower name.

Comet Hyakutake 1996. Will dust from its tail produce a meteor shower too someday? – Bob King

The Lyrid meteors are tiny "crumbs" boiled off Comet Thatcher by the sun during the comet’s many passes through the inner solar system. Every year in mid-April, the Earth travels through this dusty cloud of debris, and the tiny pieces strike our atmosphere, burning up as meteors.

The most famous meteor shower of the year are the familiar Perseids in August. They trace their origin to Comet Swift-Tuttle. The good news is that the moon will not be as much of a factor then as with tomorrow morning’s Lyrids.

So, are you up for the challenge?


2 Responses

  1. Bill Rodebaugh

    `Astro Bob,
    Whar are the best meteorite showers in 2012 by month and name…by best, I mean for naked eye viewablitiliy? And what time of night or early morning is best for viewing whatever those might be?

    Sincerely interested and passionate about meteorite showers,


    1. astrobob

      This is a good year for meteor showers as the moon won’t interfere as it did during the best showers last year.
      * Lyrids on April 21 with 10-20 per hour (no moonlight troubles)
      * Perseids on August 12-13 with 60-100 meteors per hour (no moonlight)
      * Orionids on October 21 with 20 meteors per hour (an a.m. shower – no moonlight)
      * Geminids on December 13-14 with 80-100 meteors an hour (no moonlight)

      Of the four, the Perseids and Geminids are the year’s strongest, richest showers.

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