Friday, April 24, 2015

Lyrid Meteor Shower Lights Up the Night Sky

Lyrid meteor seen over Rääkkylä, Finland, on Apr. 23, 2015. Credit: Satu Juvonen

The dazzling Lyrid meteor shower reached its peak Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with as many as 20 meteors per hour darting through the night sky. The meteors are pieces of the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher and have made an appearance every April for at least the past 2,600 years as Earth runs into a stream of debris from the comet. Bits 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 medium-fast Lyrid meteors.

The ancient Chinese are said to have observed the Lyrid meteors “falling like rain” in the year 687 BC.

Peak meteor action began around 10:30 p.m. local time in the Northern Hemisphere, while people in the Southern Hemisphere were able to catch a glimpse after midnight local time.

The most breathtaking views were in areas with an unobstructed view of the sky away from artificial lights. While the Lyrid has peaked, the annual meteor shower is expected to continue to a lesser extent into the weekend.

The annual show is known for its unpredictability. In the past, as many as 90 meteors per hour have streaked across the sky, providing a spectacular view.

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.