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Lyrid meteors fly in predawn moonlight on April 22

Lyrid meteor 2013 by Mike O'Neal.

Tonight for April 21, 2014

The 2014 Lyrid meteor shower will pepper the night on the evening of April 21 until before dawn April 22. The predawn hours are typically best – and April 22, Earth Day morning, is the peak this year. You might also want to try the evening hours this year, though, because the light of the last quarter moon, rising at midnight, will interfere.

Clouded out tonight? Or too much moonlight for your taste? You might see some Lyrid meteors on the night of April 22-23, too, especially since a thinner waning moon will be rising later on the morning of April 23, leaving more darkness for meteor watching.

For you who want to watch, just remember … a single meteor streaking along in a moonlit sky is also worth seeing. Keep an eye out.

Photo top of post by Mike O’Neal. He posted this shot of a Lyrid meteor on EarthSky Facebook at last year’s shower, on April 22, 2013. He wrote:

Had mostly cloudy sky, but did see some beautiful ones between the breaks.

Want more about the Lyrid meteor shower in 2014? Click here.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014.

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.

These meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra, not far from Lyra’s super-bright star Vega. But this is only a chance alignment. The Lyrids – bits and pieces from the Comet Thatcher – burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere about 100 kilometers (60 miles) overhead, while Vega lies some 25 light-years away. But you don’t have to find Vega to watch the Lyrid meteors, for these meteors shoot all across the sky.

When there is no moon to ruin the show, the Lyrids often display about 10 to 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The Lyrids are not an altogether predictable shower, however, and in rare instances can bombard the sky with close to 100 meteors per hour. About one-quarter of the swift Lyrid meteors exhibit persistent trains – ionized gas trails that glow for a few seconds after the meteor has gone.

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EarthSky Facebook friend Timothy O'Brien in Michigan at the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower.  He wrote,

EarthSky Facebook friend Timothy O’Brien in Michigan captured this photo at the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower. He wrote, ” … the skies were clear, Jupiter was bright and setting, a great night… what star gazing is all about, even without the great display (which we saw plenty!) would have been an awesome night.. :)” EarthSky agrees. That is what it’s all about.

Lyrid meteor (left side of photo) and star trails from EarthSky Facebook friend Sean Parker Photography.  Visit Sean's Facebook page to see more of his photos.  View larger.

View larger. | Lyrid meteor (left side of photo) and star trails from EarthSky Facebook friend Sean Parker Photography. Visit Sean’s Facebook page.

By the way, if you’re up at dawn this week – or anything in the coming months – you’ll see something for sure. It’s a dazzling world that moonlight or even the glow of twilight can’t extinguish – the planet Venus, above your eastern horizon about one and one-half hours before sunrise at mid-northern latitudes. Venus will be somewhat low in the sky, so you’ll need an unobstructed horizon to see the third brightest celestial body in all the heavens, after the sun and moon. And don’t forget to look in the western predawn sky for the planets Mars and Saturn.

Two planets visible at nightfall; three visible before dawn

Bottom line: On the morning of April 22 – and possibly on the morning of April 23, too – Lyrid meteors streak the sky. The highest number of Lyrids usually rain down in the predawn hours before sunrise, but the moon interferes with the 2014 Lyrid display. If you want to try to catch a Lyrid meteor scooting along in the light of the moon, find a dark, safe spot and an open sky. Meteor showers, like sporting events, have spurts and lulls, so give yourself at least an hour of viewing time. And remember – although the moon may obscure some Lyrid meteors, the planet Venus will be beaming boldly in the east in the hour or so before sunrise!

The radiant of the Lyrid meteor shower

Close-up on the constellation Lyra the Harp

Get your kids interested in astronomy and the sky! Use EarthSky’s lunar calendar as a fun way to enjoy the moon phases throughout the year.