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PM Update: Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight

Showers and thunderstorms, some currently warned as severe with strong winds, are progressing through the area this afternoon. Please see our currently active thread for the latest information on those weather hazards. 

The annual Lyrid meteor shower, which often features some notably bright meteors in the night sky, will peak tonight. Although the meteor shower has been trending toward peak for the past few days, with some sightings reported in our local area suburbs, the shower reaches its technical maxima tonight. The meteor shower is active from April 15th through April 25th annually, with peak days varying. The visibility of meteors also varies year to year based on sky and moon conditions.

This year, ideal viewing conditions are anticipated with a waxing crescent moon setting during the early evening hours of the peak days. This will leave especially dark conditions for meteor viewing. While last years Lyrid meteor shower was generally unimpressive, the variance from year to year leaves meteor-watchers very hopeful for this years result.

This Lyrid meteor shower typically produces between 10 and 20 meteors per hour during its peak. While this is relatively mundane compared to the other “major” meteor showers which occur annually, the Lyrids can produce some very bright meteors with fireballs. Some isolated peaks of 20+ meteors per hour have been observed. For instance, American observers saw 100+ meteors per hour from the Lyrids in 1982.

If you wish to trace back the origin of the Lyrid meteors, they typically start from the constellation Lyra the Harp. This constellation coincidentally falls near the brilliantly bright star Vega, which is easy to spot in the night sky. While only by chance, this provides a very easy recognizable point in the sky to find the meteors. Still, you don’t need to identify either of these to see the meteors. They will move through the night sky at various points and directions — and will be easy to see if the conditions are clear.

The constellation Lyra is very close to the bright star Vega in the night sky.

The constellation Lyra is very close to the bright star Vega in the night sky.

That will be a bit of a wildcard tonight. Showers and thunderstorms will be moving from west to east throughout the area during the PM Commute, but clearing is expected thereafter. Temperatures will fall into the 40’s overnight. Visible satellite imagery from around 4:00pm this afternoon was not encouraging, with an upper level low spinning clouds into the Ohio Valley even behind the cold front.

But forecast models indicate a higher than normal likelihood of at least Partly Cloudy skies tonight, which would help enhance viewing conditions with little to no moon interference as noted above. The NAM, for instance, shows periodic clouds and isolated showers, but relatively clear conditions elsewhere.

NAM model forecasting scattered clouds and showers through the overnight period into Thursday morning.

NAM model forecasting scattered clouds and showers through the overnight period into Thursday morning.

We’ll have to monitor the cloud situation throughout the evening and into the overnight period. We’ll update this thread through the evening as the cloud forecast becomes more clear — and try to give your an idea as to which areas will be more cloudy, and which will have more open sky for viewing.

As always with meteor showers, or any astronomical event, we recommend finding a dark spot in the suburbs to view this shower. Light pollution will make viewing very difficult in New York City. Head out to the suburbs of New Jersey, New York or Long Island where light pollution is much less. Settle down and give your eyes some time to adjust. Then, enjoy the show.