Crestone Weather Center
Crestone, Colorado
 

 


(photo courtesy of NASA)

 

 

 Lyrids Meteor Shower
(posted April 20, 2018)

 


Earth Day this year will bring us one of the best meteor showers of the spring, the Lyrids Metor Shower, with as many as 20 meteors streaking across the sky every hour. This weekend’s shower will radiate from the east-northeast near the Lyra constellation, which is how the shower earned its name. However, meteors will be visible streaking across all areas of the sky, not just to the east-northeast.

One of the oldest annual showers on record, the Lyrids should put on an good show this year thanks to dark, moonless skies during the peak. The shower will peaks late on Saturday, April 21 and into the very early morning hours of Sunday, April 22. This year, the quarter moon will set soon after midnight, creating dark skies just as the shower kicks into high gear.

The Lyrids are brilliant and appear to move fairly fast, appearing to streak through our atmosphere at 30 miles per second (50 kilometers per second). About 20 to 25 percent of these meteors leave persistent trains. Their orbit follows that of Comet Thatcher, which appeared in 1861 and has an orbital period of about 400 years. Earth's orbit nearly coincides with Comet Thatcher's around April 22 each year. That's when Earth passes that part of its orbit and travels through the dusty debris left behind by the comet years ago.

If you miss the shooting star show Saturday night/Sunday morning, you will get a second chance to see them on Sunday night/Monday morning, as rates may reach 10 to 15 meteors an hour.

While viewing the shower during the second half of the night, you will also be able to see Mars and Saturn in the southeastern sky. Plus early morning viewers should also be able to spot Mercury just above the eastern horizon shortly before daybreak.

2018 Major Meteor Showers (Class I)




Shower Radiant/Direction Activity Period Max Date # per hr* Comet
Quadrantids (QUA)** Draco (NE) Jan 1-Jan 12 Jan 04 60 to100 2003 EH
Lyrids (LYR) Lyra (E) Apr 18-Apr 25 Apr 22 10 to 20 Thatcher
Eta Aquarids (ETA)** Aquarius (E) Apr 24-May 19 May 06 20 to 60 Halley
Delta Aquarids (SDA)** Aquarius (S) Jul 21-Aug 23 Jul 29 17 96P/Machholz
Perseids (PER) Perseus (NE) Jul 13-Aug 26 Aug 13 60 - 100 Swift-Tuttle
Orionids (ORI)** Orion (SE) Aug 25-Nov 19 Oct 21 15 Halley
Southern Taurid (STA) Taurus (S) Sept 8 -Nov 20 Nov 5 5 to 10 2P/Encke
Leonids (LEO)** Leo (E)** Nov 5-Dec 03 Nov 18 10 to 20 Temple-Tuttle
Geminids (GEM) Gemini (S) Nov 30-Dec 17 Dec 14 95 to 120 3200 Phaethon?
Ursids (URS)** Ursa Minor (N) Dec 17-Dec 24 Dec 22 10 8P/Tuttle

*# per hour is for a moonless rural sky/** Strong moonlight will interfere with these showers in 2018

 

There are meteor showers taking place every day/night of the year, but many are hard to see. The meteor showers listed above are the easiest to observe and provide the most activity. Particular attention should be noted to the time and moonlight conditions. All of these showers are best seen after midnight. Some are not even visible until after midnight. Showers that peak with the moon at half or more full will be affected by the moonlight and difficult to observe. While the time each shower is best seen remains much the same year after year, the moonlight conditions change considerably from one year to the next.

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