April 2014 has been an exciting one for skywatchers with the blood moon/lunar eclipse and Mars in Opposition. Next up is the
Meteor Shower, April 16-April 25th. The peak of the meteor shower will be from April 22-April
23rd (during Earth Day) However, because the moon will be bright, it might be hard to see.
The Lyrids are named after the constellation Lyra, because that arrangement of stars, including Vega, marks the place in the sky where these meteors
seem to originate, at least from our earthbound perspective. In fact, Lyrids have nothing to do with Vega. The true source of the shower is Comet
The Lyrids are one of the oldest meteor showers, they've been traced back to Chinese records dating to March 16, 687BC that described them as “Stars
(that) dropped down like rain…”
Lyrid meteors are typically as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, but some can be even brighter than Venus. Some of the Lyrids can cast shadows
for a split second and leave behind debris trails that can linger for minutes.
The Lyrid meteor shower typically produces a maximum rate of 10-20 meteors per hour, although outbursts topping over a hundred per hour have been
observed on occasion. The radiant, or the direction that the meteors seem to originate from, lies at right ascension 18 hours and 8 minutes and
declination +32.9 degrees north. This is just about eight degrees to the southwest of the bright star Vega, which is the brightest star in the
constellation of Lyra the Lyre, which also gives the Lyrids its name.
A composite of 33 Lyrid meteors captured by the UK Meteor Network cameras in 2012. Credit: @UKMeteorNetwork. A composite of 33 Lyrid meteors
captured by the UK Meteor Network cameras in 2012. Credit: @UKMeteorNetwork.
The source of the Lyrids was tracked down in the late 1860s by mathematician Johann Gottfried Galle to Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, the path of which
came within 0.02 Astronomical Units (A.U.s) of the Earth’s orbit on April 20th, 1861, just six weeks before the comet reached perihelion. Comet G1
Thatcher is on a 415 year orbit and won’t return to the inner solar system until the late 23rd century.
The orbital path of Comet G1 Thatcher during its 1861 passage. Credit: NASA/JPL Ephemeris Generator.
The activity of the Lyrids typically spans April 16th to the 25th, with a short 24 hour peak above a ZHR of 10 on April 22nd-23rd.
Now for the bad news. This year finds the light-polluting Moon in nearly its worst location possible for a meteor shower. Remember this week’s
total lunar eclipse? Well, the Moon is now waning gibbous and will reach last quarter phase at 7:52 UT/3:52 AM EDT on April 22nd, and will thus be
rising at local midnight and be high in the sky towards dawn. The Lyrid radiant rises at 9:00 PM this week for observers around 40 degrees north and
rides highest at 6:00 AM local, about 45 minutes before sunrise.
The rising Lyrid radiant, looking to the northeast at 2AM local from latitude 30 degrees north. Created using Stellarium.
The orientation of the Earth on April 22nd at 12UT/08AM EDT. Credit: Stellarium.
Get Ready for the Lyrid Meteor Shower
NASA: What's up for April
In case anyone is interested, here's a list of the 2014 meteor showers:
2014 Meteor Showers
edit on 18-4-2014 by Jennyfrenzy because: added additional info and