This year's Lyrid meteor shower is expected to peak between midnight and dawn on Saturday night/Sunday morning. That means two things. One: it's the weekend, which means you have no excuse not to stay up. Two: it's a new Moon, which means for the first time in almost nine months, stargazers will have a chance to catch a meteor shower without having to worry about any moonlight ruining their nighttime visibility. Here's what you need to know to spot as many meteors as possible.
The thing about the Lyrids is that they're a capricious bunch. Sometimes this shower peaks at just 20 meteors per hour, but they're also notorious for really bringing the awesome when you least expect it; on a good year, stargazers can expect to spot upwards of 100 Lyrid meteors per hour during peak stargazing hours.
This year, the shower is expected to peak Sunday morning at 05:30 GMT (That's 1:30 am EST and Saturday, 10:30 pm PST). As usual, you'll want to seek high elevations and shun city lights, pack plenty of warm clothing, and bring a comfortable lounge or blanket that will allow you to watch as much of the night sky as possible without craning your neck.
You won't need a telescope to spot the meteors, but if you have one you should definitely bring it. Saturn is currently at opposition (this means Earth is currently orbiting right between Saturn and the Sun, which puts Saturn opposite the Sun and illuminated in the sky for much of the night); with the exception of the Eta Aquarid shower in early May (which will take place during a Full Moon... booo), the next time you'll have a chance to watch a meteor shower and see Saturn in this position won't be for another five years.
The shower's radiant (the region of the sky from which meteors will appear to originate) is, as its name suggests, near the constellation Lyra, but your best bet is to forget about that and just keep your eyes pointed straight up, keeping in mind that meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.
Some additional Lyrid meteor shower resources
- For more tips on what to bring on a stargazing outing and how to avoid light pollution, see our how-to guide for last year's Perseids — a different shower, obviously, but the pointers still apply.
- Want to join local experts in observing the shower? Look up your neighborhood astronomy club.
- Wondering when the ideal time to watch is for your specific geographic location? Check out NASA's Fluxtimator (you'll want to change the first field to "6 April Lyrids," select the location nearest you, and change the date to April 21—22 2012).
- Cloudy skies ruining your stargazing? Watch the shower live via NASA's sky cam in Huntsville, Alabama along with meteor experts Dr. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw in a live webcast and webchat.
- Read more about the Lyrids, including NASA's plans to observe them from the ISS, over on SPACE.com.
Radiant via SPACE.com