ST. GEORGE — Neither rain, nor shine, nor COVID-19 can stop the celestial light show peaking tonight as the annual Lyrids meteor shower sends flakes of comet dust shooting across the sky at more than 110,000 mph.
For those who are sick of staying indoors, tonight is the night to grab some blankets and head outside to watch the heavenly show that takes place every year in April — just be sure to stay 6 feet apart from other stargazers.
The meteor shower officially kicked off Thursday and will reach its peak late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning. Light from the moon will not interfere with viewing conditions as the peak falls just a few days before the new moon, making 2020 an excellent year for viewing the Lyrids, according to NASA.
In Southern Utah, the best time to watch is from late evening starting at 10 p.m. and going into the early morning hours, with the hour or two before dawn being the best time to see 10-20 shooting stars per hour.
Before midnight will be the best time to see the longer, slower meteors, or “earthgazers,” which streak horizontally across the sky with trails that sometimes glow for several seconds after the meteor has dissipated. Weather in St. George shows mostly clear skies for Tuesday into Wednesday morning, with the forecast for Cedar City being partly cloudy to clear.
The annual meteor shower takes place as Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher, an encounter that sends flakes of comet dust – most no bigger than grains of sand – streaking across the sky where they strike Earth’s atmosphere. The comet dust then disintegrates into streaks of light.
Although the Lyrids is an annual meteor shower, the actual Comet Thatcher takes more than 400 years to orbit the sun and won’t be visible from Earth until its next go-around in 2276. This particular meteor shower originates from the Lyra constellation and is one of the oldest recorded meteor showers dating back at least 2,700 years.
While this shower may not be as dazzling as the Perseid meteor shower, which showcases one of the best shows every year in August, the Lyrids will still be a stunning show on a night when Venus is shining bright in the western sky. In fact, the “planet of love” is the brightest object in the sky this time of year besides the moon and sun.
An Interactive Meteor Shower Sky Map that monitors visibility conditions to maximize viewing conditions can be accessed by clicking here.
Lyrid viewing tips
NASA provided the following tips to make watching the meteor shower more enjoyable:
- The Lyrids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the dark hours, after moon set and before dawn.
- Find an area well away from city or street lights.
- Be prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
- Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible.
- After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors.
- Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
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