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Alaskans have opportunity to observe Lyrid meteor shower

Laurel Andrews
A Lyrid meteor over Earth, April 21, 2012. Courtesy NASA

The Lyrid meteor shower passing by Earth may give Alaskans a chance to see one more celestial event before winter fades to spring and nighttime gives way to the endless daylight of summer.

Every April, the Lyrid meteor shower springs from the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher as it passes by the planet, and earthlings have witnessed this annual occurrence for thousands of years.

Visible from roughly April 16 to 25, the Lyrid shower is expected to have peak activity on Monday night, April 22. Meteors are expected to dash across the sky at a rate of 10 to 20 per hour, but outbursts of up to 100 per hour are possible. The meteors will appear in the direction of the constellation Lyra, the group of stars from which the Lyrid meteor shower derives its name. The Western half of North America is the favored viewing location this year.

Lyra is an easy constellation to spot, as its star Vega will be “by far the brightest star in the eastern sky,” writes Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage astronomy professor.

In Alaska, the daily gains in sunlight minimize the time that the meteors will be visible in a darkened sky. The best time to check out the meteor shower will be on April 22, between 1 and 3 a.m.

“At 2 a.m. it will be directly east and about 45 degrees above the horizon.” Rector writes. “Meteors should be visible across most of the sky, but they will appear to be coming from this direction. All meteor showers are unpredictable, but as many as a 100 per hour may be visible. If the skies are clear it’s worth a look!”

Light from the gibbous moon may hinder viewing somewhat, but the moon will be low on the horizon and to the south, so the meteors should still be visible, Rector writes. Viewers can head outside city lights for better viewing opportunities, but the shooting stars should be visible even within areas of light pollution, weather permitting. 

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com