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Lyrid meteor shower peaks this weekend


Andrew Fazekas, astronomer
April 19, 2013 — This weekend skywatchers should anticipate April showers ... but of a cosmic kind.


Watch for a meteor shower in the night sky (courtesy: NASA/ESA/Gilles Chapdelaine)
Watch for a meteor shower in the night sky (courtesy: NASA/ESA/Gilles Chapdelaine)

The annual Lyrid meteor shower is set to peak this weekend, on Sunday, April 21 and into the early morning Monday, April 22.

The Lyrids are expected to produce a modest number of shooting stars falling at rates of 15 to 20 per hour.

Meteor showers are generated when Earth plows through clouds of debris shed by periodic comets on their path around the sun. The trail of debris then gives rise to the Lyrids every year. They were cast off by a comet known as Thatcher which rounds the sun every 415 years. 

The chunks of debris, most no bigger than a grain of sand, slam into Earth's protective atmosphere and burn up at high speeds dozens of kilometers above our heads. As they disintegrate they leave bright streaks in the sky we affectionately call shooting stars.

The best way to see this weekend's light show is to face the northeast horizon after 9 p.m. local time and look at the overhead sky.

Each meteor appears to radiate out from the constellation Lyra – the shower’s namesake. It's very close to the lead star Vega, which is one of the most brilliant stars in the entire sky.

Ideally the best location to see the show is outside of the city – far from light pollution, but even from suburbs meteor watchers should still be able to see at least 5 to 10 meteors per hour at peak times.

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