Look up overnight on April 21 and April 22! Here’s what to expect
Where to look and how to prepare
The paths of these meteors, if extended backward, seem to diverge from a spot in the sky about 7 degrees southwest (to the lower right) of the brilliant blue-white star Vega in the little constellation Lyra (hence the name “Lyrids”). Your clenched fist held at arm’s length covers roughly 10 degrees of the sky. The radiant point is actually on the border between Lyra and the adjacent dim, sprawling constellation Hercules. Vega appears to rise from the northeast around 9 p.m. your local time, but by 4 a.m., it has climbed to a point in the sky nearly overhead. You might want to lie down on a long lounge chair where you can get a good view of the sky.
Bundle up too, for while it won’t be a cold as on a midwinter’s night, nights in April can still be quite chilly. In fact, the current national weather forecast is indicating predawn temperatures on Wednesday at or below freezing across the Northeast US and Great Lakes states, as well as parts of the northern and central Rockies.
While seldom a rich display like the August Perseids or December Geminids, the April Lyrids have been described as “brilliant and fairly fast.”
About 20 to 25 percent of them tend to leave a lingering incandescent trail behind it for a few moments. Their orbit strongly resembles that of Comet Thatcher which swung past us during the spring of 1861. There is no chance that anyone living today will see this comet when it returns to the inner solar system, as it isn’t expected to swing by Earth again until the year 2276. However, the dusty material left behind by this “cosmic litterbug” along its orbit, produces an annual display of meteors in late April.
In the year 1867, Professor Edmond Weiss in Vienna noticed that the orbit of Comet Thatcher seemed to nearly coincide with the Earth around April 20 and later that same year, astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle confirmed the link between this comet and the Lyrids. Thus, the Lyrids are this comet’s legacy: the meteors that we see from this display are the tiny particles that were shed by the comet on previous visits through the inner solar system.
Read more about the Lyrids and other space wonders on Space.com
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