Experience what the Chinese saw in 687BC

Can not resist a meteor shower! The Lyrids will storm through our skies in the next few days – April 16 through 25. April 22 a good time to view 10 to 20 meteors an hour.

Every year, in the later part of April, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), of which there are no photographs due to its roughly a 415-year orbit around the sun. Comet Thatcher last visited the inner solar system in 1861, before the photographic process became widespread. This comet isn’t expected to return until the year 2276Bits and pieces shed by this comet litter its orbit and bombard the Earth’s upper atmosphere at 177,000 kilometers (110,000 miles) per hour. The vaporizing debris streaks the nighttime with swift-moving Lyrid meteors.

If Earth passes through an unusually thick clump of comet rubble, an elevated number of meteors could be in store.

How to watch the Lyrid meteors

Fortunately, you don’t need any special equipment to watch a meteor shower. Simply find a dark, open sky away from artificial lights. Lie down comfortably on a reclining lawn chair, and look upward. Although the moonlight is sure to wash out a good number of Lyrid meteors in 2013, some Lyrids may be bright enough to overcome the moonlit glare.

Another beautiful feature of the Lyrids to watch for … about one quarter of these swift meteors exhibit persistent trains – that is, ionized gas trails that glow for a few seconds after the meteor has passed.

Bottom line: Remember that the Lyrids aren’t the year’s best meteor shower. In the Northern Hemisphere, that distinction often goes to the Perseids in August. But the Lyrids do offer 10 to 20 meteors per hour at their peak in a moonless night; in 2013, that means before dawn on April 22. And remember that, like all meteor showers, the Lyrids aren’t altogether predictable. In rare instances, they can bombard the sky with up to nearly 100 meteors per hour.

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