ATLANTA (CNN) – Every year from January to mid-April we experience a “meteor drought”, without a single rain shower for months.
All that ends April 22 this year with the first show of the season: the annual Lyrid meteor shower.
“These dazzling meteors are fast and bright, with a striking golden trail of dust behind them,” said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones.
Best seen from the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrids have been observed for 2,700 years, according to NASA. During its peak, this shower will show about 10 meteors per hour.
You can even see a fireball flying through the sky or the glowing dust trail that the meteors often leave behind as they shoot through Earth’s atmosphere.
As with all meteor showers, the darker the sky the more visible the Lyrids will be. If you want to check them out, you’re very lucky to be away from urban areas where city lights can obstruct the view.
“Light pollution is one of the biggest problems seeing meteors, and it seems to get worse every year,” Jones said.
But there is another factor that also affects light: the moon. This year the moon is in the waxing phase of the moon; it will be about 70% illuminated. Because the moon will be so bright, EarthSky recommends viewing the sky after moonset and before sunrise.
Lyrid meteors can be seen all over the sky between midnight and sunrise, according to the American Meteor Society. The best time to view them on April 22 is the last hour before dawn, around 4-5am local daylight saving time.
After you’ve determined your viewing location and time, come prepared with a blanket and just lie back, with your feet to the east, and look at the sky. Take 30 minutes in advance to adjust your eyes to the dark, without looking at your phone.
Be patient, as the AMS suggests, “Serious observers should watch for at least an hour as there will be numerous spikes and dips of activity.”
When your eye sees a meteor in the sky, you are observing one of the lost pieces of Comet Thatcher, the source of the Lyrid meteors. These fragments fly into our upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour as Earth’s orbit crosses its path.
“When these pieces interact with our atmosphere, they burn to reveal the fiery, colorful streaks found in our night sky,” Jones said.
If you’re missing the meteors this week, but still want to stare at the sky, check out next week’s ‘pink’ full super moon on April 26. While the moon will not be actually pink, it will appear extra bright because supermoons are slightly closer to Earth.
This is what you can look forward to even more in 2021.
More meteor showers
After the Lyrids meteor shower, you won’t have to wait long for the Eta Aquariids to arrive, peaking on May 5, when the moon is 38% full. This shower is best seen in the southern tropics, but will still produce a moderate shower for those north of the equator.
The Delta Aquariids are also best seen from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28-29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks on the same night – the Alpha Capricornids. While this is a much weaker shower, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during the peak. It will be visible to those on either side of the equator.
The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, peaks between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.
Here’s the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky’s meteor shower forecast.
- October 8: Draconids
- October 21: Orionids
- November 4-5: South Taurids
- November 11-12: North Taurids
- November 17: Leonids
- December 13 to 14: Geminids
- Dec. 22: Ursiden
Solar and lunar eclipses
This year there will be two solar eclipses and two lunar eclipses – and three of them will be visible to some in North America, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
A total lunar eclipse will occur on May 26, best visible to those in western North America and Hawaii from 2:46 am MT to 7:51 am MT.
An annular solar eclipse will occur on June 10, visible in northern and northeastern North America from 2:12 a.m. MT to 7:11 a.m. MT. The sun is not completely blocked by the moon, so wear eclipse glasses to view this event safely.
A partial lunar eclipse will be seen on Nov. 19, and skywatchers in North America and Hawaii will be able to view it between 11 p.m. MT Nov. 18 and 5:06 p.m. MT Nov. 19.
And the year ends with a total solar eclipse on December 4. It won’t be seen in North America, but those in the Falkland Islands, the southern tip of Africa, Antarctica and Southeast Australia will be able to see it.
According to planetary guide Farmer’s Almanac, Skywatchers will have multiple opportunities to spot the planets in our sky during certain mornings and evenings in 2021.
It is possible to see most of this with the naked eye, with the exception of the distant Neptune, but binoculars or a telescope will give the best view.
Mercury appears as a bright star in the morning sky from June 27 to July 16 and October 18 to November 1, May 3 to May 24, August 31 to September 21 and November. December 29 to 31.
Venus, our closest neighbor in the solar system, will appear in the western sky at twilight from May 24 to December 31. It is the second-brightest object in our sky after the moon.
Mars will appear in the morning sky between November 24 and December 31 and will be visible in the evening sky between January 1 and August 22.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is the third brightest object in our sky. It will be seen in the morning sky between February 17 and August 19. Look forward to the evenings from August 20 to December 31 – but it will be brightest from August 8 to September 2.
Saturn’s rings are only visible through a telescope, but the planet itself can still be seen with the naked eye on the mornings of February 10 to August 1 and the evenings from August 2 to December 31. It will be at its brightest. between 1-4 Aug.
With binoculars or a telescope, you can see the greenish glow of Uranus on the mornings from May 16 to November 3 and the evenings from January 1 to April 12 and November 4 to December 31 – but brightest between August 28 to December 31.
And our most distant neighbor in the solar system, Neptune, will be visible through a telescope on the mornings from March 27 to September 13 and in the evenings from September 14 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between July 19 and November. 8.
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