In my mind spring truly arrives with the annual Lyrid meteor shower. This year, the oldest recorded meteor event (with records dating back 2,700 years) arrives April 16, but don’t get too excited until April 23 when Lyrid is expected to peak at 20 meteors an hour. Named for a radiant point near constellation Lyra, I always settle on Vega (my favorite summer star) as the source of Lyrid magic.
In Northern hemispheres, Vega rises in the north-east sky around 9 or 10 pm. by midnight Vega shines high enough for meteors blazing across the sky to appear as her manifestation, higher still in the hours just before dawn – Vega stands as my Lyrid beacon.
Don’t fret if Vega eludes you, Lyrids can appear at any point in the night sky. A spectacular peculiarity of Lyrid meteors – roughly a quarter of them leave gas trails behind, ionized gases that glow for a few seconds after a meteor passes.
If fair weather and the spirit of Lyrid moves you – cast your gaze skyward in the morning hours of April 23.
Oh Vega, seeing you tonight reminded me of a side lined idea to write about wonders of the night sky. Calling it “baby steps”, and seen as my way of sparking others to gaze at the sky – I remain hopeful a cosmic signpost or two will cast eyes upwards. I can’t force cosmic awe or expect my enthusiasm to resonate with anyone not inclined. Daunting probability of success never stopped me before – if a single person reads this and takes it upon themselves to locate Vega, that’s good enough for me.
Vega is my favorite summer star. 5th brightest in the Northern Hemisphere – dependable, comforting and easy to find. In early evening look to the northeast, Vega jumps at you, unhindered by four faint companions making up constellation Lyra. More noticeable are Deneb and Altair who join Vega to make the “summer triangle”.
Greek mythology spoke of constellation Lyra as the harp played by Orpheus. When Orpheus played, no mortal or God could look away. Vega is often called the Harp Star.
Vega might not be the brightest star – a distinction held by Sirius – but it’s one of the easiest to spot. Finding Sirius requires a little orientation – setting eyes on Orion’s belt and drawing a downward left line. Vega needs no introduction, it simply pops out of the sky, politely reigning over the horizon.
Nothing would make me happier than knowing someone somewhere noticed Vega and thought “I know you – your name is Vega, pleased to make your acquaintance”.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks this coming Monday, April 22. The Lyrid shower looks like it comes from Vega in the Lyra constellation. Vega is a bright star, 3 times larger than our sun, and 25 light years from earth. Lyrids are actually a dust trail from Comet Thatcher – officially known as C/1861 G1. Space dust, typically the size of a grain of sand, hits our atmosphere at 110,000 mph. The Lyrids aren’t known for large numbers of meteors per hour – usually 10 – 20, with peaks that may produce up to 100. “Lyrid fireballs” is the name given to outbursts of brighter meteors that leave a smoky trail behind for a minute or two.
The best time to ponder Lyrids is in the hour or two before sunrise on April 22. Get yourself away from city lights – bundle up; as you lay on your back facing east. An extra bonus for people in the Northern Hemisphere – sunspots AR1726 and 1727 are getting uppity.Any eruptions this weekend would be earth directed meaning geomagnetic storms could bring some strong auroras.