January 19, 2020

Astro-Event: A Meteoric Weekend!

We bring you this week’s installment of the astronomy event of the week a few days early to get “eyeballs on the sky” for the first good meteor shower of spring 2012. The Lyrids, generally a lesser shower with rates around 10 per hour, may just be worth watching out for this year. A primary reason for this is because the Moon reaches New phase this Saturday at 3:18AM EDT/ 7:18AM UTC. Thus, any further light pollution can be safely assumed to be of a terrestrial nature, such as annoying neighbors, etc. If you’ve never monitored the Lyrids before, this year may offer your best shot at catching this normally elusive meteor shower.

The Lyrid radiant to the northeast at about 1AM local. (Created by the Author in Starry Night).

A remnant dust trail of comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, the Lyrids emanate from a radiant near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra just towards the border of Hercules. With a declination of about 35° degrees north, this radiant rises around 1 AM local time and transits around 6 AM local, about an hour before local sunrise for middle northern latitudes. Expect observed rates to rise along with the radiant, and then drop as twilight begins to interfere. Although the Lyrids are active yearly from the 16th through the 25th of April, the key time to watch in 2012 spans from 21:00 UTC Saturday night on April 21st to 08:00 UTC Sunday morning on April 22nd, with a peak centered right around 05:00 UTC. This corresponds with the early morning hours for western Europe/UK, and the east coast of North America may get a good showing as well. Keep in mind, however, that meteor showers are fickle beasts, and it’s worth watching from any time zone as the peak may arrive early or late.

Just how active are the Lyrids? Well, a typical year might see an ideal Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 10-20 meteors per hour, although outbursts around ~90 ZHR were recorded by observers in 1982. There is evidence to suggest that the Chinese knew of and recorded Lyrid outbursts over 2,600 years ago, and the shower has been known of since 1835.

The Lyrids also have something else to offer; an exceptionally higher than normal ratio of bright fireballs. The entry velocity of the typical Lyrid also stands around 49 km/sec, a little above the average between the higher range seen in showers (72 km/sec) and the lower value (11 km/sec). This is good news for photographers, as bright meteors make the best shots… simply set your camera on a tripod, set it for a high ISO/low f-stop value with a wide field, and expose for several minutes… you may just nab a meteor trail! I prefer to aim about 45° degrees to either side of the radiant to catch the meteor “in profile” but Lyrids may appear anywhere in the sky.

Also, be sure to count how many meteors you see and report them to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) and tweet them at #Meteorwatch. This is an easy way to contribute to the understanding of meteor streams… YOU may be the sole observer located along that crucial longitude with clear skies that catches and documents a brief outburst! If history holds true, the IMO should have its live ZHR graph (with handy report form) up and running as well, a decent source of timely information as the shower unfolds…

So be sure to set that alarm, get out there and catch the first good meteor shower of northern hemisphere spring; you won’t see any if you don’t try!


  1. [...] 22rd: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks at 05:00 UT. With a ZHR of 15-20, this shower favors Western Europe this year. [...]

  2. [...] first, the low-down on the prospects for the shower. The Lyrid peak for 2013 is expected to occur on Monday, April 22, at 12:00 Universal Time (UT)/5:00AM PDT [...]

  3. [...] 2012- ZHR 25, Moon phase= 2% illuminated, waxing crescent. [...]

  4. [...] at a high 80 degree angle at a swift velocity of 49 kilometres per second. About a quarter of the Lyrid meteors are fireballs, leaving bright, persistent smoke trains. It’s a good idea to keep a set of [...]

  5. [...] at a high 80 degree angle at a swift velocity of 49 kilometres per second. About a quarter of the Lyrid meteors are fireballs, leaving bright, persistent smoke trains. It’s a good idea to keep a set of [...]

Speak Your Mind