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The annual Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16 to 25. You might have spotted one the past week, but the peak activity this year is predicted to be tomorrow morning (April 22).
There will be little or no interfering light from the slender waning crescent moon.
The greatest number of meteors will usually fall during the few hours before dawn, but the Lyrid meteor shower is just as unpredictable as any meteor shower.
The shooting stars seem to radiate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the brilliant star Vega. These meteors burn up in the atmosphere about 100 kilometers/60 miles above Earth and Vega lies trillions of times farther away at 25 light-years, so they just “appear” to come from Lyra. You don’t need to find Lyra in order to see meteors as they are visible in any part of the sky.
Tonight is a Full Moon. With a Full Moon and also with a New Moon our only permanent natural satellite is on a line with the Earth and sun. When new, the moon is in the middle position along the line, and when full, Earth is in the middle. A Full Moon always comes about two weeks after the new phase.
I wonder if this alignment of the sun, Earth and moon is part of the appeal of a Full Moon. A lunar eclipse always happens at Full Moon as only then the Earth’s shadow, extending opposite the sun, can fall on the Moon’s face.
A Celtic name for the April Full Moon is the Growing Moon, referring to this time of plants returning to their growing seasons and humans turning to planting again.
No matter what the mixed weather of march may have brought to your area last month, at least some days of April will feel like true spring has arrived.
This month’s moon is sometimes called the Pink Moon, not for its color, but for the color of the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Of course, I am also seeing plenty of yellow forsythia, daffodils and crocuses in neighborhood gardens.
Names like the Full Sprouting Grass Moon and Seed Moon are also growing reminders.
The Egg Moon name reminds us of new life from the eggs of birds and fowl and echoes the egg themes of Easter and Eostre.
The name Fish Moon references this time when shad move upstream to spawn.
This Sunday starts the annual Lyrid meteor shower which I think of as an April spring event. It is active each year from about April 16 to 25. In 2017, the peak of this shower is expected to occur the morning of April 22.
Time lapse video
The Lyrid meteor shower is active each year from about April 16-25, and we’re now approaching the peak of this shower for 2015. Their peak is typically around April 22 each year (late night April 22 to dawn April 23).
The radiant of the meteor shower is located in the constellation Lyra (The Harp or Lyre), near this constellation’s brightest star, Alpha Lyrae (proper name Vega).
The source of the meteor shower is particles of dust shed by the long-period Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.
These April Lyrids are the strongest annual shower of meteors from debris of a long-period comet, mainly because as far as other intermediate long-period comets go (200 – 10,000 years), this one has a relatively short orbital period of about 415 years. The Lyrids have been observed for the past 2600 years.
Still, it is a modest shower and often offers no more than 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak, but it has been known to have bursts of activity that could dazzle you.
This year the waxing crescent moon will set in early evening, guaranteeing a dark sky for meteor-watching.
Try to get out there from midnight until dawn.
Did you get to see the meteor showers this week? Mid-April is when Earth planet passes through the trail of dust and debris left in the wake of comet Thatcher. It is a “long period comet” that makes a complete orbit around the sun only once every 415 years.
But you don’t need to wait that long to see evidence. The April Lyrids appear from April 16 to April 26 each year. They often peak on Earth Day (22nd).
They are just bits of dust that slam into our atmosphere, but at 110,000 mph it creates dramatic streaks of light across the night sky. This is what we call the Lyrid meteor showers.
There are meteor showers that are better known, bigger and brighter than the Lyrids, but it is one of the oldest known meteor showers. Back in 687 BC , astronomers in ancient China first recorded this shower.
The shower in 687 BC (proleptic Julian calendar) was recorded in Zuo Zhuan:
“On day xīn-mǎo of month 4 in the summer of year 7 of King Zhuang of Lu, at night, fixed stars are invisible, at midnight, stars dropped down like rain.”
The meteors are about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper and will appear to come from the constellation Lyra (the harp), which lies near the bright star Vega.
I will be out in a wooded and somewhat isolated area tonight and hope to catch a glimpse.
The Lyrid meteor shower averages about 15 to 20 meteors per hour according to NASA. Some years are more dense. In 1982, astronomers counted 90 meteors per hour. This year is not an optimal year because the moon is more than half full and its light will overcome many of the meteor showers.