(Victor Valley)– Each year in late April Earth passes through the tail debris from the Comet Thatcher. As the comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, fall through the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at roughly 110,000 mph, they disintegrate as streaks of light, or meteors!
The Lyrid meteors – April’s “shooting stars” – tend to be bright and often leave trails. As a general rule, the greatest number of Lyrid meteors fall in the dark hours before dawn. This year, the Lyrids will peak on the early morning of Saturday, April 23rd. The waning gibbous moon will be high in the sky during the predawn hours that are normally best for observing meteors. Although the light of the moon will not be as bright as a full moon, it is still bright enough to “drown out” the fainter meteors.
For best viewing, go to the darkest area, away from city light. Take a reclining chair or blanket to cover a flat area. Look to the northeast, which is in the direction of the constellation Lyra. Plan to spend at least an hour reclining comfortably while looking up at the sky.
What is a Meteor Shower?
An increase in the number of meteors at a particular time of year is called a meteor shower.
Comets shed the debris that becomes most meteor showers. As comets orbit the Sun, they shed an icy, dusty debris stream along the comet’s orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. Depending on where Earth and the stream meet, meteors appear to fall from a particular place in the sky, maybe within the neighborhood of a constellation.
Meteor showers are named by the constellation from which meteors appear to fall, a spot in the sky astronomers call the radiant. For instance, the radiant for the Leonid meteor shower is located in the constellation Leo. The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall from a point in the constellation Perseus.