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Against the Moon’s Light

Only the strongest of this year’s Lyrid meteors will pierce the glare

The waning gibbous moon rises around midnight at week’s end and shines bright through dawn, which puts a damper on the annual Lyrid meteor shower, peaking in the dark hours of Thursday/Friday and Friday/Saturday.
    Even under ideal conditions with no competing moonlight, the Lyrids tend to max out at 15 to 20 meteors an hour. But any meteor bright enough to pierce the moonlight is likely to catch your attention as it streaks through the sky. Additionally, many of the Lyrids leave behind trails that remain aglow several seconds after its meteor has disappeared. And, from time to time, the Lyrids storm with anywhere from 60 to 100 meteors an hour.
    The Lyrids take their name from the constellation Lyra, the harp, a small, hourglass-shaped constellation marked by Vega, the fifth-brightest in the heavens. While you can trace the path of these shooting stars back to Lyra, they appear out of nowhere almost instantaneously and anywhere along the celestial dome.
    Bright moon or not, one light is sure to stand out in the dark before dawn. Look to the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise, around 6:20 this week, for the planet Venus. She’ll cling tight to the horizon, so you’ll need a clear view to see this morning star, the brightest object in the sky other than the sun and moon.
    Sunset, now after 7:45, reveals the giant constellation Orion standing over the southwest horizon. What, with its three aligned belt stars and the bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, few constellations are as familiar as Orion. But each spring, this winter hunter dips ever lower in the sky before finally disappearing. As Orion dips beneath the northwest horizon, look to the southeast for the rising figure of the scorpion, Scorpius, the hunter’s nemesis.