Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lyrid meteor shower crosses night sky

(CNN) - Look for spectacular shooting stars this week as the annual Lyrid meteor shower light up the nighttime sky.

Although the meteor shower started Thursday and goes through Saturday, the best times to view the shooting stars will be Wednesday into Thursday before dawn.

It's an especially good year to spot the Lyrids.

"This year the moon will be a waxing crescent only 1/15th the brightness of a full moon, and it will set early, allowing excellent dark sky conditions for this shower," Slooh Community Observatory astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement (PDF).

The Lyrids, which are pieces of debris from a comet, have been observed for more than 2,600 years, according to NASA. Each year around this time, the Earth runs into the comet's debris stream, which causes the shower.

"For the 2015 shower, I'm expecting 15 to 20 Lyrid meteors an hour," the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office's Bill Cooke wrote on a NASA blog.

"Peak rates should occur after 10:30 pm on April 22 your local time, for observers in the northern hemisphere. For observers in the southern hemisphere, Lyrid rates are not significant until after midnight your local time."

Stargazers in Europe may have the best views, but many people around the world should be able to spot the Lyrids. And there's no need to buy special equipment to spot the showers. Find a patch of a dark, open sky away from artificial lights, "lie down comfortably on a blanket or lawn chair, and look straight up," wrote Cooke.

Or head to your computer. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will livestream the event starting at 11 p.m. ET Wedensday. Slooh's livestreaming event starts at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday. Use the hashtag #SloohLyrids to ask questions that could get answered live.

The name of a shower is based on the point from which it originates, called the radiant. The constellation where the radiant is located gives the shower its name. In this case, home base is probably the constellation Lyra.


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