Lyrid meteor shower best before dawn

Above: Photo of a Lyrid meteor via EarthSky Facebook friend Guy Livesay

It’s Lyrid meteor time! We expect the Lyrid meteors to fly most abundantly tonight – from late evening April 22 until dawn April 23 – though under the light of a brilliant waning gibbous moon. The greatest number of Lyrid meteors usually fall in the few hours before dawn. That’s when the radiant point – near the star Vega in the constellation Lyra – climbs highest up in the sky, and when you’re likely to see the most meteors.

Note for Southern Hemisphere observers: Because this shower’s radiant point is so far north on the sky’s dome, the star Vega rises only in the hours before dawn. It’ll be lower in the sky for you than for us farther north on Earth’s globe, when dawn breaks. That’s why you’ll see fewer Lyrid meteors. Still, you might see some! Try watching in the few hours before dawn, too.

Unfortunately for all of us this year: The bright waning gibbous moon will light up the predawn hour, which is usually the optimal time for wtaching the Lyrid meteors.

But the good news: See the moon near the king planet Jupiter from late evening April 22 till dawn April 23!

Sky chart of moon and Jupiter

The moon will be pairing up with Jupiter on the expected peak night of the Lyrid meteor shower.

The Lyrids aren’t the sky’s richest meteor shower. In a dark sky, with no moonlight to ruin the display, you might see as many as 10 to 20 meteors per hour in the few hours before dawn. But the Lyrids aren’t an altogether predictable shower. In rare instances, they can bombard the sky with some 60 to 100 meteors per hour.

We’re not expecting a Lyrid meteor 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. You might spot a few, in spite of the moonlight.

Lyrid meteors radiate from near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp. Read more about the Lyrid’s radiant point.

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 of 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, in the hours before dawn. 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.

Click here to find out when Vega rises into your sky.

Remember, though … you don’t have identify the meteor shower radiant point to enjoy the Lyrid meteors. The meteors radiate from a single point, but they can be seen flying in all parts of the night sky.

Read more about the Lyrid’s radiant point.

Simon Lee Waldrum caught this Lyrid meteor during 2017’s shower. Gorgeous!

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 at all parts of the sky.

Want more? Try these links:

Everything you need to know: Lyrid meteor shower

Top 10 tips for meteor watchers

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2019

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 during 2016’s Lyrid meteor shower, from 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 percent moonlight … this scene never gets old for me!”

Bottom line: The best time to watch Lyrid meteor shower is during the predawn hours on April 23, 2019. Try watching the mornings before and after, too.

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Bruce McClure