The Lyrids?

Hey, everyone. Happy Friday!

A while back, I ran into someone I know from around town. We had a nice chat and he asked me why I don’t often write about meteor showers. He was right. I don’t.

I love meteor showers, but don’t have good luck with them. I’ve had the pleasure, luck, and fortune of seeing straggling Geminids, or maybe they were Ursids, streaking across the clear and amazing skies over Death Valley, California years ago. They were bright and bold, with streaks so long and dramatic that I had time to turn to my then-fiance and say “Hey, look at that!” before they vanished into the black. Each one seemed like its own stanza in a much bigger poem. It was, in every imaginable way, an incredible experience.

Unfortunately, outside of those supremely dark skies, they’re really tough. I find that if the sky isn’t just right, the weather doesn’t cooperate, the moon isn’t in just the right phase, you’ll wind up going back to bed, exhausted and frustrated. When you can see them, they’re spectacular. But, when they’re not… they’re not.

Plus, there are loads and loads of showers. There are a few bigger, better, brighter ones, but if I were to hit every one, it’d be a lot of writing!

His comment, though, was a good one, and I appreciate it.

Late every April, in particular this week and weekend, the Earth cruises through the leftover crud from the Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. We see bits of this crud light up and streak across the sky as it ionizes and breaks up high in our atmosphere.

This shower is called the Lyrids because its radiant, the place where many of these streaking meteors appear to be coming from, is in the constellation Lyra, the lyre, and its famously bright star, Vega.

The Lyrids are famously bright and bold. Apparently, and remember, I’ve rarely had good luck with meteor showers, so I’m only going by what I’ve read, they’re sometimes bright enough to cast shadows. Can you imagine? Imagine looking up and seeing something that bright? It’s no wonder these things sometimes really had quite an effect on people many years ago.

This’ll be a good year to give it a try, too, because the waning crescent moon won’t rise until near dawn. Its brightness won’t get in the way of the show.

If your up for it, the peak, the best night to see them, will be tonight, Friday into Saturday April 21 / April 22, but they’ll continue until about April 26, next Wednesday. Bring a lounge chair or a picnic blanket, and some warm clothes, and be patient. You’ll want to head out long after dark, after midnight even, when the sky is at its darkest, and look for Vega, high in the eastern sky. It’ll be the brightest star around. The meteors can come from anywhere, but most of them will appear to be coming from the direction of Lyra and Vega. Just find a good patch of sky and a good patch of ground to watch it from, and see what you can see.

The Lyrid Radiant and Summer Triangle in the Eastern Sky (from Stellarium)
The Lyrid Radiant and Summer Triangle in the Eastern Sky (from Stellarium)

As a nice consolation prize, if you don’t see any meteors, you’ll get a nice preview of the Summer Triangle (Vega, Altair, and Deneb), and then if you stay up late enough, you’ll get to see the backward and disorienting waning crescent moon rise along with Venus into the morning. The whole thing, I have to admit, could be really, really great.

What do you think? Are you going to give it a try? My skies are expected to be pretty cloudy (natch), so I’m not sure I’ll bother, but you never know. Here’s some more, including a forecast map, from AccuWeather.

I’d love to hear how you do.

Clear skies, everyone!

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