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Earth Day: Lyrid Meteors Shower Our Mother With Heavenly Light [Video]

The Lyrid meteors grace the skies on the nights of April 22, Earth Day, and on April 23, during the peak of this remnant of Comet Thatcher, last seen in 687 B.C.
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They streak across the sky as if in a living Van Gogh painting, leaving ionized trails in their wake.

They are the Lyrid meteors, and they are not just any shooting stars.

Remnants of Comet Thatcher, the meteors appear as Earth crosses the debris stream in late April each year. The comet itself has not been seen since 1861 and won’t be seen again until 2276, Earthsky.com reports.

“Bits and pieces shed by this comet litter its orbit and bombard the Earth’s upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour,” Earthsky.org says. “The vaporizing debris streaks the nighttime with medium-fast Lyrid meteors.”

While the shower normally generates 10-20 shooting stars per hour, occasionally there are bursts of up to 100 per hour, according to CBS News in San Francisco, which puts its first known viewing back at 2,700 years ago.

“In ancient China, one observation reported the shower as ‘falling like rain,' ” Chabot Space And Science Center Astronomer Ben Burress told CBS News, “which was probably describing an instance of exceptional activity, possibly following the passage of Comet Thatcher and a fresh trail of dust.”

We’re talking back in the time of Confucius, according to Earthsky.org, the year 687 BC. Talk about an infrequent visitor.

While the Lyrids are classified as a weak to moderate meteor shower, they could be worth waiting up for, especially given that they are the biggest shower for the first half of the year. Plus, for once moonlight won’t get in the way.

“Conditions this year should be nearly ideal,” reports Astronomy.com. “The waxing crescent Moon sets around midnight local daylight time, leaving the prime viewing hours before dawn Moon-free. The shower’s radiant—the point in the constellation Lyra the Harp from which the meteors appear to emanate—climbs nearly overhead just before morning twilight starts to break. Under a clear, dark sky, observers can expect to see 15 to 20 meteors per hour.”

Of course, one never knows.

“American observers saw an outburst of nearly 100 Lyrid meteors per hour in 1982,” says Earthsky.org. “Around 100 meteors per hour were seen in Greece in 1922 and from Japan in 1945.”

So wait until late, late at night, find a quiet, extremely dark spot, and lie down to gaze upward on the nights of Tuesday April 21-22 and Wednesday April 22-23, with April 23 being the best night for the shower's brief peak.