The 2013 Quadrantids were good fun in early January, but now we’re in that yearly lull in major meteor activity. The next major shower won’t happen until April. It’s the Lyrid meteor shower – April’s “shooting stars.” These meteors tend to be bright and often leave trails. About 10-20 meteors per hour at peak can be expected. Plus, the Lyrids are known for uncommon surges that can sometimes bring the rate up to 100 per hour. Those rare outbursts are not easy to predict, but they’re one of the reasons the tantalizing Lyrids will be worth checking out. The radiant for this shower is in the constellation Lyra, which, as seen from mid-latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, rises in the northeast at about 10 p.m. in April. In 2013, the waxing gibbous moon lights up the nighttime from sunset until the wee hours of the morning. However, the greatest number of Lyrid meteors commonly fall in the dark hours just before dawn. Best time to watch is the morning of April 22, 2013 between moonset and dawn. To find out when the moon sets in your sky, check out these recommended almanacs. On April 22, 2012 a fireball seen over California and Nevada resulted in some meteorite fragments being recovered. These fragments – and that fireball – were likely NOT associated with the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower, even though they happened at the same time. Image of Sutter’s Mill meteorite fragments collected by astronomer Peter Jenniskens on April 24. Image via NASA / Eric James
By the way, in 2012, at the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower on April 22, people in California and Nevada saw a large fireball streak across the sky and heard a sonic boom. The boom rattled windows, and the fireball was so bright that some people were said to see “spots” afterwards. Later, the incoming object was said to be the size of a mini-van. Was this object related to the Lyrid meteor shower? Probably not. Meteors in annual showers are the result of rice-grain-sized, icy debris left behind in the orbits of comets. They rarely survive the fiery trip through Earth’s atmosphere and make their way to the ground.
The April 22, 2012 fireball, on the other hand, was clearly rocky. In fact, two days after the fireball – thanks to tracking of the meteor by Doppler weather radar – a small rocky fragment was picked up in the Henningsen Lotus Park just west of Coloma, California. It turned out to be the meteorite from the April 22 fireball. NASA scientists later said they struck scientific gold with this object, whose rapid recovery let them study for the first time a primitive meteorite with little exposure to the elements.