April's Lyrid Meteor Shower
Space Science News home
The oldest known meteor shower peaks this year
on April 22
Above: Artist Duane Hilton created this nighttime painting of a Lyrid meteor streaking over sand dunes in Death Valley, CA.
December 3: Mars Polar Lander nears touchdown
December 2: What next, Leonids?
November 30: Polar Lander Mission Overview
November 30: Learning how to make a clean sweep in space
Most years, observers of the Lyrids can expect to view one or two shooting stars every few minutes. That's just a trickle compared to the avalanche of shooting stars and fireballs seen by millions during the 1998 Leonids meteor shower, but the Lyrids are not always so meek. In 1982, for example, over 90 meteors per hour were seen for a brief time. An even bigger outburst in 1803 was documented by a journalist in Richmond, Virginia who wrote:
"Shooting stars. This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets..." [ref]Another account quoted an observer who "counted 167 meteors in about 15 minutes, and could not then number them all." [ref]
Sign up for our EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery
The Lyrid meteor stream is asscociated with periodic comet Thatcher C/1861 G1, whose orbit is tilted nearly 80 degrees with respect to the plane of the solar system. Because the comet spends most of its time well away from the planets, it is nearly immune to significant gravitational perturbations. This is probably the reason why the debris stream has remained stable and the Lyrid shower has been observed for so many centuries.
Lyrid meteors can be seen anytime after midnight
when the constellation Lyra is well above the horizon. The
best time to look is between
about 3 a.m. and dawn. That's when the local sky is pointing
directly into the meteoroid debris stream (see the diagram below).
The early morning hours of April 23 and April 24 should be good times to watch no matter where you live.
How to View the Lyrids
Above:The rate of meteor activity
is usually greatest near dawn because the earth's orbital motion is in
the direction of the dawn terminator. Earth scoops up meteoroids
on the dawn side of the planet and outruns them on the dusk side.
You won't need binoculars or a telescope to observe Lyrid meteors, the naked eye is usually best for seeing meteors which often streak more than 45 degrees across the sky. The field of view of most binoculars and telescopes is simply too narrow for good meteor observations.
The image indicates the general region of the sky from which the Lyrid meteors appear to emanate (red dot). This point, called the radiant, is really an optical illusion - the meteors are moving along parallel paths, but appear to come from a single point, just as a stretch of parallel railroad tracks will appear to meet at a point on the horizon.
The Lyrids - From Gary Kronk's Comets & Meteors Web Site
North American Meteor Network - April 99 Newsletter featuring information about the Lyrids
North American Meteor Network - home page
Leonids Live! -site of the live webcast of the 1998 Leonids
A Wild Ride to the Stratosphere in Search of Meteors -- Apr. 14, 1999. The payload from the NASA Meteor Balloon has been recovered.
Meteor Balloon set for Launch -- Apr. 9, 1999. NASA scientists prepare to launch a weather balloon designed to capture micrometeoroids in the stratosphere.
Leonid Sample Return Update -- Apr. 1, 1999. Scientists will describe initial results from a program to catch meteoroids in flight at the NASA/Ames Leonids Workshop April 12-15, 1999.
The Ghost of Fireballs Past -- Dec. 22, 1998. RADAR echoes from Leonid and Geminid meteors.
Bunches & Bunches of Geminids -- Dec. 15, 1998. The Geminids continued to intensify in 1998
The 1998 Leonids: A bust or a blast? -- Nov. 27, 1998. New images of Leonid fireballs and their smokey remnants.
Leonids Sample Return payload recovered! -- Nov. 23, 1998. Scientists are scanning the "comet catcher" for signs of Leonid meteoroids.
Early birds catch the Leonids -- Nov. 19, 1998. The peak of the Leonid meteor shower happened more than 14 hours earlier than experts had predicted.
A high-altitude look at the Leonids -- Nov. 18, 1998. NASA science balloon catches video of 8 fireballs.
The Leonid Sample Return Mission -- Nov. 16, 1998. NASA scientists hope to capture a Leonid meteoroid and return it to Earth.
Great Expectations: the 1998 Leonid meteor shower -- Nov. 10, 1998. The basics of what the Leonids are and what might happen on November 17.
sign up for our express news delivery and you will receive a mail message every time we post a new story!!!
For more information, please contact:
Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack