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Lyrid meteor shower peaks April 22, coincides with Earth Day

Skygazers might have been busy with the fist 'Blood Moon' but the heavens has a lot more to offer. Another reason to look up starting Tuesday is the Lyrid meteor shower.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower is expected to peak on April 22. The peak of the breathtaking cosmic dance will also coincide with this year's Earth Day celebrations.

The Lyrid Meteor shower happens every year when small bits and debris from the Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher fall into the Earth's atmosphere. The comet passes by the Earth in a predictable periodic manner and astronomers have been observing Lyrid Meteor Showers for over 2,600 years. The annual meteor shower happens every April when the Earth travels into the debris stream as the comet passes by.

"Look for the familiar constellation Lyra, rising in the Northeast at 10 p.m. It'll be high overhead by 4 a.m. This month's Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the night of April 22 and the morning of April 23," said NASA astronomer and writer James Houston Jones. "But you'll spot some Lyrids any night between the 16th and the 25th."

For skygazing newbies, differentiating between normal meteors and meteors that are part of specific showers can be a bit confusing. A distinction can be made by tracing the path of a meteor. If the meteor originates from a specific point in the sky belonging within the constellation Lyra, then then meteor is a part of the Lyrid shower. The point of origin is referred to as a radiant.

"The peak rate is expected to be 15 to 20 meteors per hour. The third quarter moon rises an hour past midnight, brightening the sky," Jones added. "But the moon will only obscure the fainter meteors. Luckily, the Lyrids are known to produce bright meteors, many with persistent trains."

For people interested in viewing the Lyrid Meteor Shower during its peak, astronomers recommend two options. The shower can be best viewed either by watching just before moonrise during April 21 or just before dawn during April 22.

"As a general rule, the higher that Vega climbs into the sky, the more meteors that you're likely to see," said Earthsky Space Writer Bruce McClure. "That's why the greatest numbers of meteors generally fly in the dark hours before dawn."

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will also be hosting a live Ustream event featuring the Lyrid Meteor Shower. The livestream will be taken by a NASA camera during the peak of the shower and will show the night sky over Hunstville, Alabama. The steam will start at 8:30 in the evening (EDT) and can be viewed on either NASA or the Marshall Space Flight Center's Usteam page.

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