The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight, and you can watch it live online, right here.
Beginning at 5 p.m. PDT, the astronomy website Slooh.com will live-stream video of the shower from one of its telescopes in North America.
Each year in mid-April our planet passes through a trail of dust and debris left in the wake of comet Thatcher -- a long period comet that makes a complete orbit around the sun once every 415 years.
As the Earth moves through Thatcher’s debris stream, tiny bits of dust slam into our atmosphere at about 110,000 mph, creating streaks of light that shoot across the night sky.
The Lyrid meteor shower is not the brightest or the biggest of the annual meteor showers, but it is one of the oldest known meteor showers. Astronomers in ancient China first recorded this shower in 687 BC -- 2,700 years ago.
The Lyrids are also known for leaving dust trains behind them as they streak across the sky. These luminous trains can be visible for several seconds.
On an average year the Lyrid meteor shower delivers 15 to 20 meteors per hour according to NASA, but occasionally the Earth passes through an extra dense clump of the comet’s dust and the number of meteors goes up. Back in 1982, for example, astronomers counted 90 meteors per hour during a Lyrid shower.
Lyrid meteors are generally about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. They appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra (the harp), which lies near the bright star Vega.
Be forewarned that 2014 is not an optimal year to see the Lyrid meteor shower. The waning moon is more than half full, and its light will drown many of the Lyrid meteor showers. But, if you’d like to try anyway, head to the darkest sky you can find and look up anytime between midnight and dawn. That’s when the meteors are expected to be the best.
Happy sky watching!
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