I confess that I didn’t go out to look at this year’s Lyrid meteor shower because of other commitments. Seeing Yuri Beletsky’s photo makes me I wish I had. Beletsky took the picture – a composite image – from Chile, where the constellation Lyra scoops low in the northern sky compared to its much higher position as seen from the northern hemisphere.
Yet the photo records a nice number of Lyrids just the same. Naturally, it didn’t hurt that he was watching from the Atacama Desert, home to some of the darkest skies on Earth. Still, like you and I, Yuri had to contend with moonlight. He called the shower “amazing”.
Checking in with the International Meteor Organization “quick look” meteor shower results, I see that a peak of 20 meteors was recorded NOT in the early morning hours of April 22 but rather very early that evening around 8 p.m. CDT. While East Coasters may have caught a snippet of maximum activity, it was still daylight for the rest of the U.S. European observers got the best views.
The Lyrids truly open up the meteor observing season with showers following at regular intervals in the months ahead. Next up are the Eta Aquarids, the spawn of Halley’s Comet, which peak in early May with no moon in the way.
But all the year’s meteor offerings may pale next to the Camelopardalids, a new shower predicted to cast as many as 200-400 meteors per hour across the sky from a radiant near the North Star on the morning of May 24.
The display is connected to an unusually close approach of the comet 209P/LINEAR to Earth. The comet, discovered in Feb. 2004 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project in New Mexico, will pass about 5 million miles (8 million km) from Earth, putting it in 9th place on the list of closest comet approaches ever.
On that May morning, we’re expected to pass through a dusty tendril of the comet’s debris and get treated to a jolly display of meteors from the constellation Camelopardalis the Giraffe. Predicted to last only a few hours, observers in the U.S. and Canada will have the best seats in the house.
The meteors are expected to be bright and very slow moving. And that pesky moon? It will be a waning crescent low in the southeastern sky and hardly a bother. Sounds like a winner to me. I’ll have more about this unique event as we approach the big night.