Lyrid meteor shower best before dawn

From EarthSky Facebook friend Guy Livesay. He wrote, ‘ Didn’t see many Lyrids on the 21st or 22nd in Eastern NC. This is from the 21st. There’s actually 2 in this shot very close together.’

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

It’s Lyrid meteor time! Best of all, the skinny and almost-new lunar crescent won’t obtrude on this year’s production. In a dark sky, you might see as many as 10 to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. Before dawn on Wednesday will probably feature the greatest number of meteors.

We expect some Lyrid meteors to fly between late evening on Sunday (April 19) until dawn Monday (April 20). And we anticipate a greater number of meteors from late night Monday (April 20) until dawn Tuesday (April 21). Before dawn Wednesday – April 22, 2018 – will probably be best, but try again from Wednesday night (April 22) until dawn Thursday (April 23) if you’re game. Generally, the greatest number of meteors fall in the few hours before dawn. That’s when the radiant point – near the star Vega in the constellation Lyra – is highest 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 before morning dawn on April 20, 21 and 22.

Good news for all of us this year: The moon turns new less than one day after the expected peak, leaving the night sky dark for meteor-watching.

More good news: Before dawn, you can see the three planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars!

April 2020 morning planets.

Three bright morning planets – Jupiter, Saturn and Mars – light up the predawn/dawn sky in April 2020.

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 Sunday’s 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.

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 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, 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 radiant 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 in all parts of the sky.

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 2020

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 dark hours before dawn, on April 22, 2020. Try watching the mornings before and after, too.

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Bruce McClure