Lyrid Meteors

StarDate: April 20, 2009

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The Lyrid meteor shower is at its best the next couple of nights. On the down side, it's not one of the year's best showers. But on the up side, there's no moonlight to interfere with the show.

The Lyrids are bits of debris from a comet. As it gets close to the Sun, some of the comet's ice vaporizes. That frees small particles of rock, which spread out along the comet's path. When Earth moves through this path it sweeps up some of the particles. They plunge into our atmosphere and burst into glowing streaks of light.

The Lyrid shower is at its very best tomorrow night. In a typical year, it produces a peak of perhaps a dozen or so meteors per hour. Every few decades, though, it pops out with a much better showing. But there's no way to predict when one of those good shows is coming up.

No matter how many meteors the shower produces, the only way to see them is under dark skies. There's no moonlight to speak of for this year's shower. But there's plenty of light from cities and towns -- a bright glow that blots out not only meteors, but most of the stars, too.

Tonight is the start of National Dark-Sky Week. It was started by a college student just six years ago, but it's caught on. The goal is to get people to turn off lights they don't need, and to replace older fixtures with new ones that direct their light to the ground. That helps keep night skies dark -- the better to see shooting stars and other astronomical wonders.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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