The Lyrid comet is bringing meteor showers to the Northern Hemisphere this month, and local stargazers will have a chance to view the phenomenon for the first time in more than 450 years.
Lyrid meteors are the dusty trails of a centuries-old comet as it orbits around the sun. Now, through April 30, the meteors will streak across the night sky flashing showers of light visible to the naked eye, weather permitting.
“The Lyrids are the first significant meteor showers of the year,” said Ron Kane, president of the Tri-Valley Stargazers. “Viewers can expect a moderate number of meteors per hour, perhaps 10 to 15 if the moonlight doesn’t interfere.”
Space.com, an online site that covers developments in space, physics, technology and astronomy, states that optimal viewing times for the showers will be from 9 p.m. through the early morning hours.
"The paths of these meteors, if extended backward, seem to diverge from a spot in the sky about 7 degrees southwest (to the lower right) of the brilliant blue-white star Vega in the little constellation Lyra, hence the name Lyrids,” according to Space.com. “Your clenched fist held at arm's length covers roughly 10 degrees of the sky (as a way to measure the distance).”
According to Kane, the optimal spots for Tri-Valley residents to view the showers are up near Los Positas College, or on any unobstructed location near Arroyo, Marina, South Mines and Greenville roads. The best way to view a meteor shower is on your back or in a lounge chair.
“Given the moon's brightness, I'd suggest roads or park areas with open sky to the east and south of Livermore — this is so you don't look through the residential and street lights,” Kane added.
Records of the Lyrids date back approximately 2,700 years, making it one of the oldest known meteor showers. According to NASA, the first Lyrid meteor shower was recorded in China in 687 BC. There are no photos of the comet because it last passed through the inner solar system in 1861 — and with an orbit of 415 years, it won’t be back until 2276.
Coincidentally, the Lyrids also overlap with another meteor shower, the Eta Aquariids (sometimes spelled Aquarids), which will also sprinkle some fast-moving meteors in the morning sky before their peak next month.
The Tri-Valley Stargazers Club in Livermore typically would have hosted several viewing opportunities for the Lyrid comet shows, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, the group remains closed to the public. Members hope to reopen sometime this summer. The amateur club has 160 current members and works to foster and promote an interest in astronomy through education, camaraderie and a love of the evening sky. For more information and updates, visit www.trivalleystargazers.org.