ATLANTA (CNN) – Every year, from January to mid-April, we experience a “meteorite drought” without a single rain for months.
It all ends on 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 huge striking gold splash behind them,” said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones.
Lyrids, which are best seen in the northern hemisphere, have been observed for 2,700 years, according to NASA. During its peak, this shower will have about 10 meteors per hour.
You might even notice a fireball flying over the sky or the glowing traces of dust that meteors frequently leave as they seep through the Earth’s atmosphere.
As with all meteor showers, the darker the sky, the more visible the Lyrids will be. If you want to see them, you will have the best of luck away from urban areas where city lights can obstruct your view.
“Light pollution is one of the biggest struggles when we try to see 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 will be in its rising gibbous phase; will be illuminated by about 70%. Because the moon will be so bright, it is recommended to view the sky after sunset and before sunrise, according to EarthSky.
Between midnight and dawn, Lyrid meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky, according to the American Meteor Society. The best time to view them on April 22 will be the last hour before the beginning of the morning twilight: around 4-5 in the morning, the local summer time.
Once you have decided on the location and time of viewing, come prepared with a blanket and simply lie back, with your feet facing east and looking at the sky. Take 30 minutes before to allow yourself to adjust your eyes to the darkness without looking at the phone.
Be patient, as AMS suggests: “Serious observers should watch for at least an hour, as many peaks and valleys of activity will appear.”
If your eye catches a meteor in the sky, you will notice one of the lost parts of Comet Thatcher, the source of the Lyrid meteors. These fragments fly into our upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour as the Earth’s orbit crosses its path.
“When these pieces interact with our atmosphere, they burn to reveal fiery, colorful streaks that you can find in our night sky,” Jones said.
If you miss the meteors this week, but still want to look at the sky, see next week’s full “pink” supermoon on April 26th. Although the moon will not actually be pink, it will appear extra bright because supermanons are a little closer to Earth.
Here’s what else you can look forward to in 2021.
More meteor showers
You don’t have to wait long after the rain of Lyrids meteorites for the arrival of the Eta aquariids, reaching the peak on May 5 when the moon is 38% full. This shower is best seen in the southern tropics, but will still produce an average shower for those north of the equator.
Delta aquariums are also best seen in the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower rises in the same night – Alpha Capricorns. Although this is a much weaker shower, it is known to produce some bright fireballs during the peak. It will be visible to those on both sides of the equator.
The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak 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 outlook.
- October 8: Draconides
- October 21: Orionides
- November 4-5: Southern Taurids
- November 11-12: Northern Taurids
- November 17: Leonides
- December 13-14: Geminids
- Dec. 22: Ursids
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 a.m. to 7:51 p.m.
A ring solar eclipse will occur on June 10, visible in northern and northeastern North America from 2:12 AM to 7:11 AM MT. The sun will not be completely blocked by the moon, so be sure to wear eclipsed glasses to see this event safely.
A partial lunar eclipse will take place on November 19, and sky observers from North America and Hawaii will be able to view it between 23:00 MT on November 18 and 5:06 in the morning on MT 19 November.
And the year ends with a total solar eclipse on December 4. It will not be seen in North America, but those in the Falkland Islands, the southern tip of Africa, Antarctica and southeastern Australia will be able to see it.
Skywatchers will have multiple opportunities to see the planets in our skies on certain mornings and evenings throughout 2021, according to Farmer Almanah’s planetary guide.
You may see most of these with the naked eye, except for the distant Neptune, but the binoculars or telescope will provide the best view.
Mercury will look like a bright star in the morning sky between June 27 – July 16 and October 18 – November 1. It will shine in the night sky between May 3 – May 24, August 31 – September 21 and November 29 – December 31.
Venus, our closest neighbor to the solar system, will appear in the western sky at dusk on the evenings of May 24 to December 31. It is the second brightest object in our sky after the moon.
Mars appears reddish 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 displayed in the morning sky between February 17 and August 19. Look for it in the evenings from August 20 to December 31 – but it will be the brightest from August 8 to September 2.
Saturn’s rings are visible only through a telescope, but the planet itself can be seen with the naked eye on the mornings of February 10 – August 1 and in the evenings of August 2 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between August 1-4.
Binoculars or a telescope will help you observe the greenish glow of Uranus on the mornings of May 16 – November 3 and in the evenings of January 1 – April 12 and November 4 – December 31 – but at the brightest of August 28. until December 31.
And our farthest neighbor in the solar system, Neptune, will be visible through a telescope in the mornings of March 27 to September 13 and in the evenings of September 14 to December 31. It will be the brightest between July 19 and November. 8.
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