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By Polina Porotsky
April brings back the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Skywatchers may be able to see shooting stars, but experts say the full moon threatens to fly over this year's show.
"The light of the full moon will almost completely erase the Lyrids this year," said Bill Cooke, a meteorite expert at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in an email.
The Lyrids – so named because they seem to be flowing from the Lyra constellation – begin on the evening of April 16th and continue until April 28th. see about 20 meteors per hour.
In previous years, observers reported seeing up to 100 meteors per hour.
A meteor shower occurs when rapidly moving comet debris collides with the Earth's atmosphere as our planet moves around the sun. When the grains of rock and dust break into the air molecules, they quickly heat up to temperatures of up to 1,650 degrees Celsius (3,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and create dazzling streaks. in the sky during their combustion.
"I like to think of the fact that particles that burn in our atmosphere during a shower orbit around the sun for centuries, finally reaching the top of our atmosphere and extinguishing in a trail of light," he said. said Cooke.
In the case of the Lyrids, the debris comes from comet C / 1861 G1, or Thatcher comet, named after the amateur astronomer A. E. Thatcher, who spotted the comet for the first time on April 5, 1861.
No special equipment is needed to see shooting stars. "All you have to do is lie on your back and look up – quite easily," said Cooke. Just be sure to choose a point of view away from the city and street lights – and put your smartphone aside.
"Observing meteors requires letting your eyes adapt to the darkness, so do not you want to look at the screen of a phone or tablet," he declared. "It also removes your attention from the sky."
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