DON’T MISS: Clear skies this week offer view of celestial light show

A lengthy pause in celestial flamboyance ends this week under a shy waxing crescent moon and skies scrubbed clean by a cold front.

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks late Saturday into early Sunday, but the approach of another weather system and a growing moon means watching earlier in the week may offer a better chance to see a line of fire scratch into the inky night.

January’s Quadrantids meteor shower was the last display of note, and while not the most robust of showers, the Lyrids can be seen throwing up to 20 meteors an hour in the best viewing conditions — dark skies with little light pollution.

A fireball meteor falling earthward, courtesy of NASA/George Varros.

“For the most part, it’s a modest event, but there have been a couple of exciting outbursts that have not been repeated since 1982 in North America,” said Diana Hannikainen, observing editor for Sky and Telescope magazine. “The good news is the moon is in the first quarter and its setting quite early, around midnight, so it won’t hamper observations.”

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Pre-dawn hours offer the best viewing opportunities because the radiant point where the meteors appear to originate from is highest in the sky. The radiant for the Lyrids is near the bluish-colored star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

The Lyrids are space dust from the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which orbits the sun every 415 years. The comet was discovered in 1861, but the shower has been observed for more than 2,600 years.

The radiant point of the Lyrid meteor shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp.

Our planet annually crosses the path of the comet in late April, with bits shedding into Earth’s upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour, according to EarthSky.org.

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As with most meteor showers, the key to watching is patience.

“Lay back and get as much of the sky in your view as possible, and just wait,” said Dave Samuhel, an AccuWeather meteorologist and astronomy blogger. “The moon will set around midnight on the peak night, making viewing conditions much better during the overnight hours.”

AccuWeather gives South Florida only a fair chance of seeing the shower at its peak on Saturday night and early Sunday. An area of low pressure expected to form over the Rockies on Friday is forecast to push east, moving into South Florida late Sunday into Monday.

Forecast for West Palm Beach

The National Weather Service in Miami gives coastal Palm Beach County a 30 percent chance of showers Saturday night, with a 60 percent chance on Sunday.

“There may not be many meteors but the ones we see will be quite fast and persistent,” said Hannikainen, a former resident of Palm Beach County who suggests Singer Island as a place to view the Lyrids. “If you are outside, there are lots of other fun things to see in the sky.”

Looking west, bright Venus can be seen at twilight, while the planet Jupiter is rising in the south-southeast shortly after dark.

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