By Jeff King
“Happy Earth Day To Youuuuuuu.”
Today is the “official” Earth Day – but the sky is offering some pretty alluring competition for attention. The moon and Venus will be prominent again beginning just after sunset.
Turn to face west about 45 minutes after sunset, during mid-twilight, and you should see a beautiful crescent moon and floating well off to its right is the dazzling evening star: the planet Venus.
And as the night gets darker, you might take note of another object, much dimmer than Venus, located to the lower right of the moon at roughly half the distance separating the moon and Venus. Shining with a distinct orange color, it’s the 1st-magnitude star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull.
But wait! There’s more!
The sky will be dark and moonless for at least three hours before the first light of dawn on Thursday morning (April 23), when the annual Lyrid meteor shower is due to reach its peak.
Even if the weather at your house doesn’t cooperate, you can still get a look at these shooting stars tonight (April 22). The online Slooh community observatory will air a free Lyrids webcast at 3 p.m. HST (0000 GMT on April 23) at its website: www.slooh.com. The webacst will include live views – and sounds – of the meteor shower along with expert commentary by Slooh astronomer Bob Berman and colleagues.
You can also watch the Lyrid meteor shower webcast on Space.com, courtesy of Slooh. The meteors are called “Lyrids” because their paths, if extended backward, appear to diverge from a spot in the sky not too far to the southwest of the brilliant bluish-white star Vega, in the constellation of Lyra the Lyre. Within a day on either side of the shower’s maximum, about 5 to 10 Lyrids can usually be seen each hour by a single observer under good skies. At its peak, the Lyrid rate is roughly 10 to 20 per hour. [Photos of the Lyrid meteor shower]
Vega appears to rise from the northeast around 9 p.m. local daylight time, but by 4 a.m. it has climbed to a point in the sky nearly overhead. You might want to lie down on a lounge chair so you can be comfortable while you get a good view of the sky. Bundle up, too, for nights in April can be quite chilly.
While hardly a rich display, like the famous August Perseids or December Geminids, the April Lyrids are brilliant and move fairly fast, appearing to streak through our atmosphere at 108,000 mph (174,000 km/h). About 20 to 25 percent of the Lyrid meteors leave persistent trails.
(Some content for this story courtesy of space.com author Joe Rao)