Huestis: April Lyrids Meteor Shower & Moon & Planet Highlights
Friday, March 30, 2018
However, having said that, I’m hoping for one shower in April. It’s the annual April Lyrids meteor shower which peaks during the early morning hours between midnight and dawn on the 22nd. It’s been several months since we’ve experienced a decent display of shooting stars. The Lyrids are the oldest known shooting star display, having been observed by Chinese astronomers on March 16, 687 BCE. Being an old display, the number of meteors populating this stream of particles has greatly diminished. About 10-15 meteors per hour can be counted from dark sky locations.
These swift and bright meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. A first quarter Moon will set around 1:38am EDT, so it will not interfere with the midnight to dawn peak of the Lyrids.
The Lyrids appear to radiate outward from an area of sky on the Lyra-Hercules border near the bright star Vega, which will be about 45 degrees (halfway between the horizon and zenith) above the eastern horizon at midnight and well placed for observing. Let your eyes roam the heavens while facing this general direction. Remember, even though you can trace back the dust train left by a Lyrid meteor back to the radiant point, members of this shower can appear anywhere in the sky. The Lyrids are a fairly narrow stream of particles, so don’t expect many to be seen before or after peak night.
We still must wait a month or so before the local observatories can begin to showcase the planet Jupiter through their telescopes. However, if you do find yourself out under the stars viewing the Lyrids, look about 22 degrees above the southern horizon around 2:00am and you’ll see bright Jupiter as he ascends the sky. On April 1st he will rise around 9:30pm.
There are several other beautiful sky scenes to view during April as well. On the 2nd and 3rd you can observe the conjunction (close approach) of Saturn and Mars about 16 degrees above the southeastern horizon at 4:00am.
Another stunning sky scene will greet folks after sunset on April 17. A waxing crescent Moon will be below and to the left of brilliant Venus. This will be a nice photo opportunity, so snap a few images if the sky is cloud-free.
And finally, on April 30, Jupiter will be about six degrees to the left of the Full Moon. Each full moon has several names associated with it. Here in the United States many of them were bestowed by Native Americans. For April that includes Pink, Egg and Fish.
When the skies are clear be sure to visit the local observatories to explore the splendor of the heavens. Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open every clear Saturday night. Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every clear Tuesday night. The Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick is open every clear Thursday night. Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown is open every clear Friday night.
Keep your eyes to the skies!
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