A thin but reliable meteor shower is building up this weekend. It should hit its peak in the wee hours of Monday or Tuesday. Unfortunately, though, the gibbous Moon will get in the way. Its glare will overpower all but the brightest meteors.
The Lyrids are one of the most reliable of all meteor showers. The earliest record comes from 2700 years ago, in ancient China, where a scribe reported that meteors fell like rain.
Most years, the Lyrids produce no more than 20 or so meteors per hour. But the shower has produced a few outbursts.
The most intense was recorded in 1803, along the East Coast. A group of skywatchers in Albany, New York, said that “stars seemed to fall from every point in the Heavens, as far as our sight could extend.” Another observer, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, counted 167 meteors in 10 or 15 minutes. After that, he gave up counting and just enjoyed the show.
One of the most extensive reports came from Richmond, Virginia. Much of the town had been roused by a fire alarm in the wee hours of the morning. The blaze was quickly extinguished. But the sky stayed ablaze for a couple of hours. The local paper said it looked like “a show of skyrockets.” It “alarmed many, and astonished every person who beheld it.”
Alas, there won’t be nearly as much to behold this year. Even so, if you can find a dark, safe skywatching spot, you might see a few bright Lyrids through the moonlight.
Script by Damond Benningfield