Saturday, April 20, 2013

Adirondack Night Sky: The Lyrid Meteor Shower

Lyrid_meteor_shower_radiant_pointIf you have spent any time on Facebook, or other social media sites, you may have come across an image that states:

“During the night On April 22 2013, people on Earth will have a chance to see one of the rarest meteor shower. During the night you will be able to see thousands of these falling stars until April 23, 2013, these meteors will have best visibility during the night of April 22, 2013. There is a predicted number of about 20 meteors an hour with possible surges of 100 per hour.”

I’m all about spreading the news of meteor showers and getting people to go out and look up. Experiencing a meteor shower is quite enjoyable, and gives your kids a reason to stay up late and see something extraordinary. What I don’t like however, is the false alarm of it being “one of the rarest meteor showers” since it’s an annual occurrence making it not all that rare.

The Venus Transit last June was a rare event with it’s two occurrences in 8 years and then another 105 years until the next one with another 8 year spread before it takes 121 years for the next cycle; that’s a rare event.

The shower will actually peak on the night of April 21 into the morning of the 22nd, but you will have a chance to spot meteors in the days before and after the peak, between April 16, and April 26. The meteor shower is predicted to have between 5 and 20 meteors per hour with an average of 10 per hour. I admit the graphic floating around is enough to grab your interest and get you thinking about going out and giving it a look, but it also has the ability to leave people a little unimpressed with the outcome if it doesn’t have 20 per hour with surges of up to 100. In all honesty you may only see 1 or 2 an hour if you aren’t in dark enough skies since the fainter ones will be washed out by light pollution from nearby cities, and the bright moon. This meteor shower has had the rare – correct use of the term – chance of having surges of 50+ meteors per hour, but that is wishful thinking expecting it.

Now that I got that out, hopefully you still would like to try to get out under the night sky and give this meteor shower a shot. The radiant for this shower can be found in the constellation Lyra which rises in the northeast at about 10 p.m. There will be a waxing gibbous moon washing out the night sky to the west, which doesn’t set until the early morning hours, but you will still be able to catch the brighter ones while the moon is up. If you want to see them at their best you can wait until the moon has set, at about 3:00 a.m., in the morning of April 22 which is going to bring the greatest numbers of meteors in the dark hours just before dawn.

As far as what you need in order to see the meteors is a good dark sky, warm clothes, maybe a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, and some time to spend under the night sky. You don’t need binoculars or a telescope to see a meteor shower since meteors can be seen all over the sky.

Illustration by  Bruce McClure and Joni Hall of (via Wikimedia).

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Although he now lives in Clinton County, amateur astronomer Michael Rector has fond memories of spending time at Great Sacandaga and West Canada Lake where the skies are dark and the Milky Way is bright.

Michael writes about astronomy on his own blog Adirondack Astronomy and is interested in getting together with other star-gazers around the region. If you are interested in getting together for an occasional star party feel free to contact him at [email protected]

3 Responses

  1. Mike Rector says:

    Here is a map showing the weather conditions for the meteor shower. Looks like we’ll be in good viewing for it on Sunday.

  2. Charlie says:

    I pulled over on River Road in Warrensburg,on my way up to Blue Mountain Lake,Monday morning around 4 AM and saw half a dozen shooting stars in about ten minutes.One was fat and bright and was done with in a millisecond,another was a slow mover and bright and done with in a second,and the others were just quick-as-lightning little flicks of light,like a light bulb going on for a nanosecond then back off. I wished I could have hung out longer to see more as it was a clear morning and stars were shining bright,but I had to be on my merry way.The daily rags used to share with it’s readership events like this,but not anymore.Unless I missed something.Thanks for the heads up on this meteor shower Mike.

  3. Mike Rector says:

    Glad I was able to give you the opportunity to spot some, Charlie. I went out for a little bit at night, but I wasn’t out late enough, and plus the moon was still too high and bright to see any meteors unless they were very bright. I’ll be sure to post again for the next meteor shower with a little more than a day or two advanced notice to make it easier to plan out a time to get out and see them.

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