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What could be better than a springtime meteor shower? How about a meteor show with a crescent moon and Venus as the warmup act? That's what's on the program when the Lyrids step into the spotlight this week.
The Lyrid meteor shower peaks every year between April 21 and 23, when Earth passes right through the trail of cosmic debris left behind by Comet Thatcher. At its height, the sky display produces 10 to 20 meteors per hour. That's not as sparkly as August's Perseids or December's Geminids, but nevertheless worth staying up late for.
"Peak rates should occur after 10:30 p.m. on April 22 your local time, for observers in the northern hemisphere," Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, wrote in his Lyrid preview. "For observers in the southern hemisphere, Lyrid rates are not significant until after midnight your local time."
This year the viewing should be better than average, because the moon is just a sliver in the evening sky and won't cast much of a glare over the shooting stars. And there's a bonus: The crescent moon will make a pretty pairing with Venus, which will shine brightly just above and to the right at sunset Tuesday. As the sky darkens, the star Aldebaran will add its orangish twinkle to the scene, just below the moon.
Here's an updated top-ten list for getting the most out of the meteor show: