If you’re planning on staying up late on Friday night and into Saturday morning, do take an hour or two out to gaze up into the sky. Peaking on 22nd April, the Lyrid meteor shower will illuminate the night sky with numerous streaks. The only dampener in this cosmic show: The moon will be too bright.
The Lyrids: Position in the sky
The Lyrids is one of the annual meteor showers that happens from the 16th of April and continues till the 25th. The shower peaks around the 21st or 22nd. The name Lyrids’ alludes to their position in the night sky they occur between the Lyra and the Hercules constellation. The best time to watch them will be around 3:30 AM to 4:30 AM. At this time, the Lyrids streaks will appear to diverge something called Lyrid Radiant’. This will be almost directly overhead for countries in the mid-Northern latitudes, including Southern USA, UK, Northern India, Japan etc. If you are fortunate to live in any of these parts of the world, you’ll have no trouble getting a proper view. For people further south and in the southern hemisphere, the light show will happen closer to the horizon, more to the north of the bright star Altair (look at figures below).
The moon plays spoilsport
The Lyrids are fast, fairly bright and derived from a comet, called Thatcher’s Comet. The hourly rate is generally about 10-20 streaks, but can go up to 96, as in 1922, or 90 in 1982. However this time, the moon, being in its waning gibbous phase, threatens to spoil the fun, given that it will also occupy almost the same position of the sky and be quite bright (about 68% of full moon intensity).
The best viewing strategy may be to lie down on your back and just gaze directly upwards. Photo enthusiasts, remember to adjust the exposure time after compensating for the light pollution about you. Since the Lyrids are fast, usually a 5-10 second exposure is enough. If you happen to be at a place free of neighboring terrestrial lights, you might want to increase the exposure in order to catch the afterglow of the tail, which usually lasts for a few seconds after the streak. And don’t forget your wide angle lens, especially for the Lyrid Radiant.
Here’s wishing everyone a happy meteor gazing experience. Try to catch a few falling stars’, and don’t forget to make a wish. Wish you the best of luck.