© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lyrids and Eta Aquarids Meteor Showers

If you like to watch falling stars, this next month or so is a good time to see them. The Lyrids meteor shower will start soon, and it overlaps with the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. Between the two, the show will run to the end of May.

What is a meteor?

The Lyrids meteor shower, for example, are caused by material from Comet Thatcher. You may recall that comets are mixtures of ice, rock, and dust. They are often described as "dirty snowballs" a few miles in diameter.

When comets pass near the sun, the heat causes them to shed ice and particles. The particles, mostly sand-sized pieces of ice and rock, create a “debris field” in outer space. When the earth passes through these debris fields, the pieces collide with the atmosphere and become glowing hot. From the earth they are seen as “falling stars,” or more accurately, meteors.

Lyrids Meteor Shower
Peak viewing period: April 22-23, 2024

The Lyrids Meteor Shower runs annually from April 16-25. The peak viewing period will come on the evening of April 22 and early morning of April 23 with around 20 meteors per hour. We are coming up on a full moon on April 23, so the moon is going to interfere with some of the fainter meteors. But if the sky is clear, it will certainly be worth checking out.

Like the other meteor showers, the Lyrids are named because the meteors appear to originate out of the constellation Lyra (The Lyre). But meteors may be observed almost anywhere overhead.

The Lyrids have the reputation for providing long trails which may last for several seconds. They are also known for their outbursts which may produce more than 100 meteors an hour.

Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Peak viewing period: May 6-7, 2024

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower will overlap with the Lyrids. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower will begin on April 19 and run through May 28. The peak viewing period for the Eta Aquarids will be the night of May 6 and early morning of May 7 with perhaps 30 meteors per hour. We are heading to a new moon on May 8, so with the help of a clear sky the viewing could be excellent.

The Eta Aquarids are caused by particles shed from the well-known Halley’s Comet. Halley’s Comet has a 75 to 76-year orbit. It made its last pass by earth in 1986 — the next opportunity to view the comet will come in 2061.

So, make a point to check the nighttime sky occasionally from now until May 28. These two meteor showers will be putting on the annual show, and all you have to do is step outside to take it in. Enjoy!

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
Related Content