Tonight – April 21, 2017 – start watching late at night, or better yet in the hours before dawn Saturday, and be prepared to see something beautiful. It’s the peak morning of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Plus the moon will be near Venus. Assuming you’re in a dark location, you really can’t go wrong getting up in the hours before dawn Saturday and gazing skyward. You might catch some meteors, and you’ll surely see Venus near the moon!
The Lyrids aren’t the sky’s richest meteor shower. You might see as many as 10 to 20 meteors per hour in the few hours before Saturday’s dawn. But the Lyrids aren’t an altogether predictable shower. In rare instances, they 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.
Plus this shower sometimes produces fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors.
Just know that the Lyrids will be best in the hours between midnight and dawn Saturday. Venus and the moon, on the other hand, will ascend into your eastern sky only shortly before sunup. They’ll be an incredibly lovely way to cap off your hours of meteor-watching.
Why watch for meteors before dawn? Although there are exceptions, most meteor showers are best in the hours after midnight. The key is the shower’s radiant point, in this case in the approximate direction to the bright star Vega. This star 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 later, possibly after midnight. The higher that Vega appears in your sky, the more Lyrid meteors you’re 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 around then.
Remember, though … you don’t have identify the meteor shower radiant point to enjoy the Lyrid meteors. The meteors radiant from a single point, but they can be seen flying in all parts of the night sky.
Like most meteors in annual showers, Lyrid meteors are the debris of a comet orbiting the sun. They burn up in the atmosphere about 60 miles (100 km) up. Vega, meanwhile, is not really connected with the meteors. It lies trillions of times farther away at 25 light-years.
If you want to watch the shower, be sure to find a place away from artificial lights. Simply recline comfortably while looking in a relaxed way in all parts of the sky.
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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.