AccuWeather.com meteorologists are monitoring sky cover this week for the viewing possibilities of the Lyrids, the first major meteor shower since early January.
The shower will be visible from April 16 through April 26, peaking during the predawn hours of Sunday, April 21, and Monday, April 22. While the Lyrids average 10 to 20 meteors an hour, AccuWeather's Mark Paquette said there is potential for significantly more.
"It is unpredictable," he said. "Sometimes lyrids have 'surges' which can break up the rate to near 100 per hour."
Paquette explained that the Lyrids, named for their location in the constellation Lyra, are caused by Comet Thatcher when Earth's path crosses through its tail. The meteors are flakes of the tail's comet dust, usually no bigger than grains of sand, that strike the atmosphere at 49 kilometers a second. As they travel through our sky, they disintegrate as streaks of light, briefly casting a shadow before leaving behind smoky trails of debris.
"Lyrid meteors are typically as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, which is to say, middling brightness, but some are more intense, even brighter than Venus," Paquette said.
The "Lyrid fireballs" originate in the sky near the star Vega, Lyra's brightest star. Predawn hours offer the best view of the meteors as Vega sits nearly overhead. In the evenings the shower sits closer to the horizon, blocking many of them from view. The waxing moon will also light up the sky until after midnight, dimming the sight of the meteors. However, the moon sets before dawn, so its brightness will not hinder the view of the shower when it moves into its peak positional hours.
Most of the country will have clear to partly cloudy skies during the predawn hours on Saturday. A section of the Plains into the upper Northwest, as well as most of the East Coast, will have cloudy skies that will make any sightings difficult for this day.
Be sure to check back for updated conditions, as well as for the conditions of other days as the meteor shower's timeline progresses. For more updates, like us on Facebook at AccuWeather.com Astronomy.