Tonight is best night to see the Lyrid meteor shower in Canada. The April Lyrids extend from April 16 to April 26 each year, but the peak viewing time will happen tonight in the hours before dawn, when it is expected that as many as 20 meteors per hour will be visible.
The meteor shower is a actually geomagnetic storm that is caused by cloud of solar plasma hitting the Earth’s magnetic field. When the earth is aligned with a large clump of debris from the Comet Thatcher, the April Lyrids go nuts. In 1982, there were more than 90 meteors per hour. In 1803 it was reported that a stunning 700 per hour could be seen.
Lyra’s brightest stars include Vega, the second brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere, Sheliak, and Lyr, which is a double star consisting of a blue-white star and a semi-regular red giant.
Owing to light conditions, this is expected to be a great year for viewing The Lyrids and much of Canada, especially in the west, is expected to be clear.
“This year the moon will be a waxing crescent only 1/15th the brightness of a full moon, and it will set early, allowing excellent dark sky conditions for this shower,” said Slooh astronomer Bob Berman.
There are tons of stargazing apps that can help you locate and understand the night sky. These apps take advantage of orientation sensing gyroscopes placed in smartphones and tablets. Gyroscopes are often combined with acceleration sensors to accurately calculate orientation and rotation. If you have an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, HTC Titan, Nexus 5 or BlackBerry, you have a gyroscope and accelerator.
Point your device at the sky and stargazing apps will typically outline constellations in bright white and provide the names of objects with easy to read text overlayed. This is where tablets have a big advantage over even the largest smartphones, so if you have an iPad it probably better to download your app to that.
The undisputed champ of stargazing apps is Star Tracker. Star Tracker is currently the top stargazing app in the world, ranking at or near the top on Google Play, iOS and BlackBerry. There is a paid version, which costs about $3.99, and a Lite Version, which is free and is a smaller download. Point Star Tracker at the night sky and it will identify planets, constellations and deep sky objects. Star Tracker also features a 3D compass graphic that is integrated into the camera view that will show you the positioning of the object in the night sky.
Another stargazing app has a long history in the world of geekdom. Distant Suns was originally written for the Commodore Amiga computer in 1985, and is reborn as a premium stargazing app, usually priced at around $6.99. The app, which was a finalist in the family category of the TabTimes Best Tablet App contest last year, features more than 200 galaxies, nebula and star clusters, and 130,000 stars.
A more basic -and free- option to the above is Star Chart, a stargazing app available across all platforms that has been downloaded more than 15-million times.
Of course, if you know you will be nodding off long before the best hours there is another technology option. You can view the April Lyrids live from the Canary Islands online, here.
Below: Comet Thatcher’s Yearly Attack on Earth – Lyrid Meteor Shower | Video