While you’re honoring Earth Day and the environment this weekend by planting trees and flowers, walking and riding your bike or even just recycling, don’t forget to look up!
Our attention may be focused on the ground April 22, but this weekend holds promise for a remarkable sight in the sky, the Lyrid Meteor Shower, which will reach its peak in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday (meaning after midnight Saturday, the 21st). As a general time frame, we’re looking at 11 PM to 5 AM EST.
The Lyrids, which take their name from the constellation Lyra, may not be one of those extremely rare meteor shows that won’t come around for another couple of decades – like clockwork, they appear every April due to the Earth passing through the orbit of a comet called Thatcher causing a meteor shower – but this year may bring the most spectacular view of them in many years. Why? It all has to do with the moon. On Saturday night/Sunday morning the moon will be new, meaning the sky will be darker and the ability to see the shower better.
The Lyrids are a modest shower, but known to be unpredictable given that the hourly meteor rates typically run between 10 – 20 meteors per hour, but have been known to increase to 100. They are also good for beginner sky watchers due to their general brightness that is similar to those stars of the Big Dipper. Still, we recommend trying to find a spot away from the city and street lights.
So don’t forget to take a moment to yourself and look at the night sky in the midst of your Earth Day celebrations. Try to go outside in the late hours of the night with a blanket or lawn chair or sleeping bag and feel the stillness of the world around you, the grass beneath you and the darkness of the night only perforated by the light of the Lyrids. What better way to ring in Earth Day?
If the weather does not permit you to sit outside under the stars on Saturday night/Sunday morning, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to miss the Lyrids. Instead, you can stay ‘Up All Night’ with NASA! where experts will answer questions on a live video chat with a live video feed of the shower embedded in the chat.