After a long hiatus, meteor season is back this month with the annual peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. The first three months of most years represent a period of relative drought for night sky watchers, as not much usually happens betweenearly January and the Lyrids. They signal a welcome return of the evening chance to venture into balmy temperatures.
Lyrids are expected to become active in 2021 around April 15, according to the American Meteor Society, and will peak on the evening of April 21 until the wee hours of April 22. the weather is not cooperating where you are, a night before or after the peak should also present a very good viewing opportunity.
Lyrids don’t produce many meteors, maybe 10 to 15 per hour, but are more likely to include bright, dramatic fireballs than other large downpours. Every few decades we have an explosion during the Lyrids that increases the rate to around 100 per hour. This is not expected to happen in 2021, but things like this are also notoriously difficult to predict.
The source of the Lyrids is the debris cloud left behind by a comet named C / 1861 G1 Thatcher which was last seen in the 19th century and will not pass through the Inner Solar System for over two centuries. Each year, however, our planet drifts through the cloud of dust it left behind on previous visits. Small space pebbles and other pieces of dust and debris collide with our atmosphere and burn above us, producing those fleeting little light shows that many are willing to stay up late or wake up to. early to catch.
This year, with a moon that will be over two-thirds full at the top of the Lyrides, it’s probably best to try and see the spectacle before dawn and after the moon has set at your location.
Perseid 2020 meteor shower photos shine in a gloomy year
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But that doesn’t mean that evening viewing will necessarily be unsuccessful. The hours after dusk may offer a good chance of capturing a “land grazer” shining along the horizon.
Whenever you go out looking for Lyrids, get as far away from light pollution as possible and find a place like an open field or a hill with a wide, unobstructed view of the night sky. Lay back, let your eyes adjust, relax and just watch.
You don’t have to look at any particular part of the sky, but the Lyrids will appear to emanate from their namesake constellation Lyra, moving away from that part of the sky like spokes on a wheel. So if you can find Lyra and orient yourself towards her, that’s great but absolutely not required.
Stay warm, stay safe and enjoy the space show! If you amateur astrophotographers catch some awesome Lyrid Fireballs, please share them with me on Twitter @EricCMack.
To pursue CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.