The new coronavirus may have you locked down, but you’re not locked out of your house. You can still venture outside, and you should — standing a safe 6 feet apart and practicing other social distancing measures, of course — as the Lyrid meteor shower peaks this week, weather permitting.
The Lyrids can be seen any night through Saturday, but they peak overnight Tuesday and Wednesday. Under the best viewing conditions, expect to see anywhere from 10 to 20 an hour during the peak.
And here’s more incentive to head outside and wish upon a falling star for the coronavirus nightmare to be over: A new moon means dark skies.
The Lyrids are called the “Old Faithful of meteor showers” by Space.com because their peak usually lasts for several hours. But if you had to pick a specific time to head out and scan the heavens, around 2 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Wednesday is your best bet.
That’s according to the Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which puts Lyrid meteor shower viewing conditions in the good-to-excellent range.
The Lyrid meteor shower is known for producing meteors with persistent trails of ionized gas that glow for a few seconds after the shooting star passes.
As with all meteor showers, unless it’s dark where you live, it’s best to get out in the country away from city lights to get the best views. A solitary drive to a dark sky may be just what your coronavirus quarantine-grounded self needs.
Take along a lounge chair so you can get a wide view of the sky, and don’t forget to pack blankets to keep you warm during this celestial distraction. Space.com offers this helpful advice to locate the Lyrids:
“The paths of these meteors, if extended backward, seem to diverge from a spot in the sky about 7 degrees southwest (to the lower right) of the brilliant blue-white star Vega in the little constellation Lyra (hence the name ‘Lyrids’).
“Your clenched fist held at arm’s length covers roughly 10 degrees of the sky. The radiant point is actually on the border between Lyra and the adjacent dim, sprawling constellation Hercules. Vega appears to rise from the northeast around 9 p.m. your local time, but by 4 a.m., it has climbed to a point in the sky nearly overhead. …”
The Lyrids are among the oldest of known meteor showers, with records dating back 2,700 years to the time of Confucious in ancient China, according to Earthsky.org.
They fly every April when the Earth plows through a thick clump of rubble left behind by Comet Thatcher, whose orbit of the sun takes 415 years. The last time Thatcher visited our inner solar system was in 1861, and the comet isn’t expected to return again until 2276.
See Also: 2020 Guide To Meteor Showers, Supermoons
The Lyrids come after a long drought of shooting star shows and mark the beginning of the spring and summer meteor shower season. Here are more showers to look forward to in the coming months:
May 6-7, Eta Aquarid meteor shower peak: This above-average, long-running meteor shower from April 19 to May 28 produces up to 30 meteors an hour at its peak. Unfortunately, the moon — and a supermoon, at that — will wash out all but the brightest meteors, though patience may be rewarded for those who seek out dark skies after midnight. The constellation Aquarius is the radiant point, but meteors are visible anywhere in the sky.
July 28-29, Delta Aquarid meteor shower peak: Produced by debris left behind by the Marsden and Kracht comets, this modest shower produces about 20 meteors an hour from July 12 to Aug. 23. A second-quarter moon will wash out some of the faintest meteors, but patient skywatchers may be rewarded. The meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius but are visible anywhere in the sky.