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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Northern Hemisphere Forecast for April and May: Showers - With A Chance Of Bolides!

This time of year, presents us with a unique, "all-sky", observing situation: double-header meteor showers - and, the possibility of 'fireballs', and/or, 'bolide' meteors, thrown in!

First comes the Lyrid meteor shower, peaking on 22APR and followed by the Eta Aquarids, peaking on 5MAY.

Ah-Ha! But - the bases are loaded...

There is also, a good chance, for spotting a 'fireball' meteor or two, and, even a "near-once-in-a-lifetime" bolide. This annual recurring situation is where the term, "April Fireballs" comes from (see my article, "The Great Fireball of 1966").

A meteor from the Lyrids meteor shower crossing the milky way - single exposure. Image credit: iStock by Getty Images.
A meteor from the Lyrids meteor shower crossing the milky way - single exposure. Image credit: iStock by Getty Images.

Lyrid meteors originate with the short, long-period comet, C/1861 G1. This comet has one of the shortest periods of all, long-period comets, at just over 400 years. Therefore, its 'wake' is broad and rather dense. Zenithal Hourly Rates (ZHR), are only around 10, for most years - but, with meteor showers, one can never tell. The Lyrids have provided, in, roughly, 60-year outbursts, up to 90 meteors, per hour! The Lyrid radiant in Lyra is close to that constellation's brightest star, Vega, which rises around 8:30 p.m., in the east.

The Eta Aquarids, peaking on 5MAY, is the debris train, left, by the 76-year period comet, 1P/Halley (yes, that one - "Halley's Comet", for you newcomers (oh, you'll learn!))

The Eta Aquarids radiant rises at around 2:45 a.m. and the hour or two just before dawn will be the best viewing (That's what you get for becoming an Astronomer!) The Eta Aquarids occur, this year, near the full moon - but a full moon was never a deterrent to me, for a meteor shower. And, there is assistance at hand...

Meteor showers are the type of event that, you don't want to use a telescope at; at least, not for watching meteors. Typically, meteor showers are viewed with the unaided eye. Some observers will use, low powered, standard-style binoculars - I've tried that myself and, probably, missed, half of the meteors during a shower, by constricting my field of view in using them!

Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars
Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars have come up with a unique-sounding aid directed at the meteor shower, and, Milky Way density viewer: Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars! Somebody finally did it!

Although I haven't tried these, for myself, I get it -- I've imagined similar optics in my, "deep-astronomical" past (around 50 yrs., total!)

Rather than missing out on some meteors by using the confined field of a standard pair of binoculars - these 2x54 ultra-wides sound, more like, an enhanced, 'unaided-eye' field of view, with their offering of a 36° FOV, and 70°, apparent field of view. I can only imagine what the denser portions of the Milky Way look like through these!


Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer

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