The Lyrid Meteor erupts into April’s celestial showers

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Stunning Lyrids over Earth at night

This image by NASA, on the night of April 21, shows the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower. The lights of Florida are clearly visible to the right of the meteor. Cuba, the Florida Keys and the eastern Gulf Coast shoreline are also visible. Photo credit: NASA/JSC/D. Pettit

EL PASO — The sky is lighting up with an amazing array of shooting stars — the Lyrid Meteor Shower — visible from locations all over the world this month, with peak activity expected April 22-23.

“These showers are the result of tiny particles, dust particles, that enter our atmosphere,” said Hector Noriega, an astronomy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso for seven years. “They burn up creating this meteor. It’s actually pretty bright, as bright as a bright star,” he said.

The Lyrid Meteor Shower is an annual event that was first seen more than 2000 years ago. Mostly visible from the northern hemisphere and coming from the constellation Lyra the Harp, where the brightest star in the sky (Vega) is located, the meteor shower will produce about 10 to 20 shooting stars per hour. Yet some meteors may be visible from the southern hemisphere as well, astronomers say.

Sky watchers should be able to view the star Vega rising in the sky every night this week at around 10:30 p.m., according to Noriega. The star will be visible in the northeastern part of the sky at around the 40 degree mark.

This year the shower’s peak will be in the early morning hours after 1 a.m. on April 23, weather permitting. Visibility will be better than in past years because the moon won’t rise until after 2 a.m. when the sky will be dark without interference from the shine of the moon.

Lyrid does not bring as many shooting stars as the August Perseids Meteor shower that produces between 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour. Depending on certain conditions, the Lyrid sometimes surpasses that rate. This occurred on April 22, 1945 when Koziro Komaki of the Nippon Meteor Society in Japan saw 112 meteors in 67 minutes. And, in April 22, 1982, Lyrid observers in Colorado and Florida observed 90 to 100 meteors per hour.

The Lyrid Meteor Shower is actually the tail of the comet Thatcher that passed through the solar system in 1861. The next time it crosses our solar system will be in 2276. Thatcher orbits the sun every 415 years leaving a trail of dust in space. The earth passes through this trail, which we can see as shooting stars, every year in April.

“However, when they burn up, they are moving so fast they create these flashes in the sky that are visible to the naked eye,” Noriega said.

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