One of the oldest known annual meteor showers, known as Lyrids, will be peaking early this week together with Jupiter, Saturn and Mars close to the overhead, and Mercury above the eastern horizon.
Lyrids will be visible in Sri Lanka and the Director of the Astronomy and Space Science Unit, Department of Physics, University of Colombo Professor Chandana Jayaratne said it is best seen in the morning hours before the sun rises.
The Lyrids are a meteor shower that begins today (16) and runs through to April 25 with the peak around April 22nd.
Meteors of the Lyrids appear to come from the constellation of Lyra and from a single point in the sky (called the radiant) that lies just above the bright blue star Vega.
Between the dates, a few meteors can be seen per night, but on the night of April 22 the Earth encounters the densest part of the meteor stream and with that, rates of meteors increases, some 5-20 per hour or so, he explained.
According to the Professor, this period is very favorable for sky observations as air pollution caused by human activities becomes minimal due to corona pandemic resulting in very clear skies and also after the 17th, as the Moon will be out of the way allowing a full display unhindered.
The shooting stars we see are the remains of a comet named C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). The dust that the comet left behind in its last perihelion passage around the sun in May 1861 is swept up by Earth and burns up high in the atmosphere. These meteors are traveling at 48 km/s. The comet itself has an orbital period of 415 years and will next be back in the inner solar system in the year 2280.
“We recommend a garden chair to avoid neck strain caused by standing and looking upwards for long periods. Switch off all lights and allow about 20 minutes for dark adaptation of your eyes,” Professor Chandana Jayaratne said.
The period from 4.00 am to 5.30 a.m. is likely to be most productive, especially towards the end of the morning shift. At this time the radiant position will be almost overhead towards North-Eastern skies. Locate the radiant and look away from it rather than directly at it. You should be able to spot meteors flying in the opposite direction, he said.
Professor Chandana Jayaratne further said that these days after the sunset, around 7.00 p.m one can also see the brightest planet Venus in the western sky. The best time to observe other planets is from 4.00 – 5.30 a.m. At that time you can see three planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars close to each other near to the top of the sky and the planet Mercury near the eastern horizon.
This celestial phenomenon, except the moon, can also be seen from 16- 25 April 2020, while the planet Venus will be at its brightest on the 27th evening sky, he added. (Colombo Gazette)