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Sky Tonight—April, 22, Peak of Lyrid meteor shower

Courtesy of EarthSky
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Tonight presents the expected peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, from late night Friday (April 22) until dawn Saturday (April 23). Usually, the hour before dawn is best, except that a bright waning gibbous moon will be lighting the sky. This year, some people may choose to watch late at night, during the dark hour before moonrise.

Moonrise time for your sky

Our chart shows the constellation Lyra again – a closer look than on Wednesday. Lyra rises over your north-northeastern horizon around 10 to 11 p.m. tonight and marks the radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower. The Lyrids are predicted to put forth the greatest number of meteors before dawn this morning or tomorrow morning. However, the bright waning gibbous moon will probably make for an unspectacular night of viewing. You can try to catch some Lyrids from late night until dawn tonight, but once again, you have to contend with the moon.

If you are standing out there looking, try checking out some of the stars in Lyra. This tiny but prominent constellation represents a lyre, an ancient musical instrument that is essentially a small harp. The constellation is dominated by the brilliant star Vega. Vega is sometimes called the “Harp Star.” The constellation Lyra is easy to see because it is small and compact. Many people see it as a little triangle set on top of an oblique parallelogram.

Vega: Blue-white Harp Star

In Greek mythology, Lyra represents the lyre or harp of the musician Orpheus. It was said that when Orpheus played this instrument, neither mortal nor god could turn away.

There are several other interesting sights for small telescopes within the constellation Lyra. One is the star Epsilon Lyrae, just to the lower left of Vega on our chart. This is the famed double-double star, which means that in binoculars it appears as a double star, but each of those stars also appears as a double in a telescope. In other words, the single point we see with the eye as Epsilon Lyrae is at least four stars.

Epsilon Lyrae: Famous “double-double” star

Another interesting object is M57, the Ring Nebula, located between the Beta and Gamma stars of Lyra. These are the two stars farthest from Vega, to the lower right on the chart. M57 is roughly halfway between them, and appears as a faint ellipse – like a smoke ring – in a telescope. It is a planetary nebula, the remnant of a sun-like star that shed its outer layers and died.

M57 from the Hubble space telescope

Another ring-shaped nebula

Although moonlight might obscure this year’s Lyrid meteor shower, you can catch the star Vega and the constellation Lyra the Harp in your northeast sky for a few hours before the moon rises tonight.

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2011

By Larry Sessions

Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA/JPL

EarthSky: Space

CHANDRA Photo Album

U.S. Naval Observator Astronomical Information center

Universe Today

StarDate Online

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Simostronomy Blog

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

James S McDonnell Planetarium

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