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April 2013 Lyrid Meteor Shower Best Viewed with Naked Eye, Says Astrophysicist

Adam Gabriel Jensen of Wesleyan University's Astronomy Department says the Lyrids are some of the brightest and most active meteor showers, but are not particularly exceptional.

Courtesy NASA
Courtesy NASA

The Lyrids meteor shower is ready to make its 2013 debut in the skies above Middletown next week, and of all the year’s many shows in the heavens, this is one to catch.

The skies have been largely empty of visible meteor showers since the Quadrantids of early January, but the shooting stars of the Lyrids have been a reliable spectacle for 2,600 years. The Lyrids meteor shower peaks in 2013 on April 21 and 22, but some meteors may be visible beginning April 16.

According to Adam Gabriel Jensen, postdoctoral astrophysicist at Wesleyan University's Astronomy Department, "There are many different annual meteor showers, named after the constellation that the meteors 'appear' to come from, and the Lyrids are one of the several brightest/most active of these showers.  However, they are not particularly exceptional.  

"For the brighter meteor showers, you might expect to see as many as one naked eye meteor per minute, depending on your location. This is of course just an average — you might see a few in quick succession, then several minutes without seeing any.  

Jensen reminds observers that the Moon phase during the peak of the Lyrids will also be a factor in optimum viewing.

To view the Lyrids in Middletown, Jensen offers advice he'd give on any meteor shower. "You want to get as far away from city lights as possible, with as unobstructed a view of the sky as possible (in all directions), and perhaps find a way to lay down — that way, you can survey the entire sky and catch as many meteors as possible.  

"Generally, telescope or binocular viewing will not be worthwhile, as you are unlikely to see a meteor passing through that much smaller field of view," Jensen says.

Wesleyan University's Van Vleck Observatory here in Middletown offers a clear skies chart you can check as the 16th draws closer. The university also offers public observing on its 20-inch refractor April 13 from 9 to 11 p.m.

See what to look for in this video of the Lyrid meteor showe or check out photos of the Lyrids. And these charts may help you locate the shooting stars. The Lyrids tend to be bright and often leave trails and tend to peak at about 10-20 meteors per hour. One of the unpredictable aspects of this shower, though, is that it’s known for uncommon surges that sometimes result in up to 100 shooting starts per hour.

Do you have a favorite spot to watch meteor shower in Middletown? Let us know in the comments!

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