Spoiler moon might play havoc with tonight's Lyrid meteor shower
Reference by: OiiO Space
April 22, 2016   11:48 PM

If you are a night owl or a vampire, the good news is that the dark hours just before dawn tomorrow morning are the best times to view the sporadically spectacular Lyrid meteor shower.

This year's bad news is the fact that the near-full moon in our skies tonight (April 21) will have a dampening effect on the visibility of the annual show, so even the werewolves won't have much to howl about.

The Comet Thatcher is responsible for the shower, due to the Earth crossing its orbital path at about this time every year, and the resultant collisions of Thatcher's cosmic debris (meteoroids) with our atmosphere causes the streaking, fiery displays. (Thatcher orbits the sun only once every 415 years or so, the last time in 1861, so there are no photos of the ancient visitor, which won't return to this solar system until 2276.)

But because the Lyrids occasionally have what are called meteor "outbursts"—which dramatically escalate the number of visible meteors from about 10 or 20 per hour to as many as 100 per hour—and because they are known to sometimes produce large, especially brilliant "fireballs", there may be some hope in overcoming the moon's dimming presence in the early morning hours of April 22. These outburst only happen every 20 to 40 years or so, and the last one occured in 1982.

As well, about 25 percent of Lyrid meteors display a trailing plume of ionized gas that appears to linger in the sky after the object has passed, which might bode well for overcoming some of the moonlight. (The moon should not pose too much of an irritant to meteor watchers for the remainder of this year's notable showers save for December's Geminids.)

The radiant point of the Lyrid meteors is the bright star Vega (in the constellation Lyra, the Harp), which rises into the northeast sky at about 10 p.m. Thursday.

Happy hunting (or howling).