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Will you be looking out for the Lyrids meteor shower this month?

PUBLISHED: 19:30 10 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:35 23 April 2020

What will you see in the skies over Suffolk this month? Picture: GETTY IMAGES

What will you see in the skies over Suffolk this month? Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Archant

We have to start off this month with news on a bright comet you may have read about that is approaching the sun, writes Suffolk astronomer Neil Norman.

Sadly, this comet appears to be fragmenting before our eyes and unless something drastic happens,it will not be seen at all .

Comets comprise of a nucleus, a combination of rock and dust held together by ice. As the comet gets closer to the sun the ices sublimate, (turn from a solid to a gas) this creates the tail that we all associate with comets. This eruption of gases causes great stress upon the nucleus and can cause it to break apart and this is happening now. Another recently discovered comet, C/2020 F3 may be a good object in mid-July. I will keep you informed.

This month I thought we would take a look at the first of the good meteor showers for the year- The Lyrids.

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The Lyrids are a meteor shower that begins on April 16 and run through to April 25. As their name implies, the Lyrids are associated with the constellation of Lyra and appear to come 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 22/23 the Earth encounters the densest part of the meteor stream and with that, rates of meteors increases, some 5-20 per hour can be expected or one every 3-15 minutes or so. This year will see very favourable conditions also as the Moon will be out of the way allowing us to see the 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. It must be remembered that these meteors are travelling at 48km/s or some 30 miles per second. The comet itself has an orbital period of 415 years and will next be back in the inner solar system in the year 2280. The comet is currently at a distance of 107 astronomical units from the sun or rounded off, 10 billion miles.

In these very testing times it is a great chance to view the night sky from your garden or even just looking out of your window. Children can draw the moon in its phases and learn to recognise the constellations as they change from the autumnal ones to the spring ones.

Above all though, stay safe and healthy.


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