Know before you go: The Lyrid meteor shower

A graphic from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing where in the sky the Lyrid meteor shower can be seen until April 30. Credit NASA  JPL

A graphic from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing where in the sky the Lyrid meteor shower can be seen until April 30. Credit NASA JPL

The idea that you must recognize a meteor shower's radiant point in order to see any meteors is completely false.

The Astronomy magazine reported that the Lyrids start as very small specks of dust that hit the atmosphere of Earth at 109,600 miles per hour and get vaporized from friction with air, thus creating streaks of light that dazzle in the night sky.

The Lyrid meteor shower peaks each year as the Earth passes through the field of debris left behind by the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher as it makes its long trip around the sun. By Sunday morning, meteors could be showering at a rate of roughly 10-20 per hour.

According to a NASA skywatching video, "In the early morning sky, a patient observer will see up to more than a dozen meteors per hour in this medium-strength shower, with 18 meteors per hour calculated for the peak".

"The moon will set around midnight on the peak night, making viewing conditions much better during the overnight hours", Samuhel said.

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Considered one of the strongest meteor showers in the celestial calendar, the Lyrids are usually active between April 16 and 26. You can improve your chances of the meteors: try to find a light-pollution free patch of the sky and give your eyes 30 minutes or so to get used to the dark.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, say Myrtle Beach will have mostly clear skies on Saturday night, with a low around 52.

And as EarthSky explained, the showers got their name because if you trace the paths of all the Lyrid meteors backward into their center, they will all seem to radiate from the constellation Lyra the Harp, near the star Vega.

Skywatchers won't need a telescope or binoculars to view the meteor shower either - it will be visible to the naked eye. In prior years, the shower has intensified, producing up to 100 meteors per hour in what's known as an outburst, but according to astronomers, it is hard to predict when that happens. However, NASA urges concentrating on a location at the skies away from the constellation, because they will "appear longer and more spectacular from that perspective".

The best time to view the display is after nightfall and before dawn, with ample viewing opportunities expected in the Northern Hemisphere.

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