It’s been a few months since we’ve been treated to any celestial spectacles in the skies above Chicago but that drought is now coming to an end as the first significant meteor shower of the year graces the skies above Chicago.
Later this week the oldest recorded meteor show will be visible above the Northern Hemisphere coinciding with this year’s Earth Day!
What is the Lyrid meteor shower?
Every year mid-late April dust particles and cosmic debris shed by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher cause illuminated trails in the night sky. Earth passes through these debris trails causing the debris to disintegrate when it collides with our atmosphere and put on a celestial firework show.
Why is the Lyrid meteor shower special?
The Lyrids are significant for breaking the “meteor drought” that occurs each year from January to April. Though neither as fast nor as plentiful as the Geminids in December or the Perseids in August but they are known for the impressive glowing dust trails that the meteors often leave behind.
While the comet was discovered in 1861 by A. E. Thatcher, according to NASA, the first reported sightings of the “Lyrid fireballs” date back to 687 B.C. in China, making it by far the oldest-known meteor shower on record.
When can I best experience the Lyrids meteor shower?
Taking place annually from April 15-29, the famed Lyrid Meteor Shower reaches its peak nearly every year around April 22-23. The best time to catch the meteor shower will be in the early hours after midnight once the sun has set and before moonrise.
According to Time and Date, this Friday, April 21st, the sun will set in Chicago at 19:37 and the moon will set at 21:43. The sun will then rise on Saturday, April 22nd in Chicago at 05:59 before setting at 19:39 while the moon will rise at 07:15 and set at 22:53.
Due to the Waxing Crescent Moon phase which is the last phase of the lunar month and sees the lit-up part of the Moon drop to under 1% illumination, there will be optimum conditions for viewing the meteor shower later this week and into this weekend.
Time and Date report that the moon will be 0.4% illuminated on Thursday rising to around 3% on Friday and around 8% on Saturday.
How can I best experience the Lyrids meteor shower?
Luckily for us the Lyrids are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere when the sky is darkest so after the moon has set and before dawn.
The best conditions for viewing any meteor shower are well away from city lights and street lights so it is always best to travel to somewhere with as low light pollution as possible. Check out this light pollution map to find a dark sky near you!
It’s also advised that you give your eyes time to adapt to the dark so that you will better experience the meteors and as patience is key taking a jacket as well as a blanket or sleeping bag is a must plus coffee to keep yourself alert.
Once you have all of that prepared NASA recommends lying flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up at an open sky.
[Featured Image from Shutterstock]