The mild nights of spring are generally a good time for skywatching. Only one thing is missing: a great meteor shower. The really good showers are clustered in fall and winter, with the Perseids of August sometimes joining the list.
Although the season doesn’t offer a great shower, a pretty good one is at its peak tomorrow night: the Lyrids. Under a dark sky, you might see up to a couple of dozen meteors per hour between midnight and dawn. The number of meteors increases closer to dawn, as your part of Earth turns into the meteor stream. Unfortunately, by then the last-quarter Moon will be in the sky, so its light will compete with the fainter meteors.
One good thing about meteors, though, is that you don’t have to wait for a shower to see them.
A shower occurs when Earth passes through a stream of small bits of rock shed by a comet or asteroid, which happens a few times a year.
But other bits of rocky debris are scattered throughout the solar system. So on any dark night you can see several meteors zipping across the sky. And unlike the meteors in a shower, which all appear to “rain” into the sky from the same general point in space, these “random” meteors can come from any direction and blaze across any part of the sky.
So if you have a chance, look for the Lyrid meteor shower in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. If not, then take advantage of just about any clear, dark night to look for meteors flashing across the heavens.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.