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Lyrid meteor shower best before dawn

You might see as many as 10 to 20 meteors per hour in the few hours before dawn on April 22. Though the Lyrids are usually a modest shower, this shower has been known to produce fireballs – exceptionally bright meteors. Meteor showers are notorious for being fickle, so you really never know for sure what’s in store unless you watch. The good news is that the light from the slender waning crescent moon in the morning hours shouldn’t intrude too greatly on this year’s Lyrid shower.

The star Vega, which closely coincides with the radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower, rises over the northeast horizon by around mid-evening (9 to 10 p.m. local time) at mid-northern latitudes. South of the equator, this star rises at late evening or after midnight. (Click here to find out when Vega rises in your sky.) The higher that Vega appears in your sky, the more Lyrid meteors that you are likely to see. Since this brilliant beauty of a star soars to its highest point at or near dawn, the best viewing of this shower is usually during the few hours just before morning dawn.

Manoj Kesavan caught this meteor in moonlight on the morning of April 16, as the Lyrid shower was just beginning. He was in Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. He wrote:

Manoj Kesavan caught this meteor in moonlight on the morning of April 16, 2016, as the Lyrid shower was just beginning. He was in Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. He wrote: “I have seen the Milky Way rising over the volcanic complex at various seasons and moon phases. Have shot timelapes and star trails on the volcanic valley which was glacially carved out during the last ice age. This particular one is lit by almost 50% moonlight … this scene never gets old for me!” Visit Manoj on Facebook.

The radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

The radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp. Read more.

Like most meteors in annual showers, Lyrid meteors burn up in the atmosphere about 100 kilometers – or 60 miles – up. Vega lies trillions of times farther away at 25 light-years. But you don’t have identify the meteor shower radiant to enjoy the Lyrid meteors, which can fly in any parts of the night sky. If you trace the paths of the Lyrid meteors backward, however, they seem to radiate from this part of the starry sky.

The Lyrids aren’t an altogether predictable shower, and in rare instances can bombard the sky with up to nearly 100 meteors per hour. We’re not expecting an outburst this year but even catching a few meteors before dawn counts as a thrill.

Want more? Try these links:

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

Top ten tips for meteor watchers

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2016

Remember … if you do want to try to watch the shower, find a place away from artificial lights and recline comfortably while looking in all parts of the sky.

Bottom line: The best time to watch Lyrid meteor shower is during the dark hours before dawn, and the light of the waning crescent moon shouldn’t really obtrude on the April 2017 Lyrids.

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Bruce McClure

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