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Lyrid meteor shower: Thousands opportunities to make a wish

Skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere will get a view of the Lyrids meteor shower, the dusty trail of a comet with a centuries-long orbit around the sun. The Lyrid meteors streak across the sky between April 16 and April 25, but in the night from Saturday to Sunday, the Lyrid meteor shower reaches its peak.

  • The best day to see Lyrid meteors will be extremely early in the morning on Sunday, April 22, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. As with most meteor showers, the peak viewing time will be before dawn. The timing of the Lyrids in 2018 make them an Earth Day meteor shower, with the best observing times overnight on Saturday and Sunday (April 21 and 22).

According to space.com, the average Lyrid shower produces 15 to 20 meteors per hour; this year, the meteor shower should hit about 18 per hour.

Some years, the Lyrid meteor shower intensifies and can produce up to 100 meteors per hour in what’s called an “outburst,” but it is difficult to predict exactly when that will happen.

The radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to originate — will be high in the evening sky in the constellation Lyra to the northeast of Vega, one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky this time of year. Don’t look directly toward the radiant, though, because you might miss the meteors with the longest tails.

Lyrid meteors are little pieces of Comet “Thatcher”, a long-period comet that orbits the sun about once every 415 years. Pieces of debris left in the comet’s wake, however, make an appearance every year.

Comet Thatcher’s most recent perihelion, or closest approach to the sun, was in 1861. It won’t be back until the year 2276.

The Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded showers, with observations by Chinese scientists going back to 687 B.C

Meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the path of a comet, colliding with a trail of comet crumbs. That’s why they happen around the same time every year and appear to originate from specific points in the sky. As they burn up in the atmosphere, the meteors leave bright streaks in the sky commonly referred to as “shooting stars.”

You don’t need any kind of special equipment to see the meteors; just look up at the dark sky, be patient and enjoy the show.

And you have to wake up pretty early.

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