April 21, 2012 in Nation/World

A good night for meteors

New moon tonight will enhance show
Chicago Tribune
 

CHICAGO – Tonight promises to be a great night to be outdoors, if you’re a stargazer.

From tonight to early Sunday morning will be prime time to observe the Lyrids, Earth’s annual April shower of meteoroids from the tail of Comet Thatcher.

Most years, the Lyrids arrival rates solidly on the B-list of dates on the celestial calendar, but this spring the Earth will sweep through the cloud of space dust during a new moon – meaning extra-dark skies will throw the shooting stars into sharper relief, said Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

“Conditions are particularly nice for the Lyrids this year, so long as people are away from city lights. They should be a good show if people are patient,” Hammergren said.

Those looking skyward tonight should see 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour, provided they’re looking in the right direction. Lyrids will appear to stream from the northeast, streaking from the constellation Lyra, moving toward straight overhead as sunrise nears.

In some years, the Lyrids have produced bursts of up to 100 visible streaks per hour.

Most of the meteroids will range in size from BBs to pennies and will shine about as bright as the stars. Comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun once every 400 years or so, won’t be visible, Hammergren points out.

Hammergren said the Perseid shower in August tends to be more lively – 40 to 60 meteoroids per hour.

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