Dave Reneke | Thrill of a meteor shower

GREAT VIEWING: If shooting stars are your thing, then you're in for a great time over the coming week.
GREAT VIEWING: If shooting stars are your thing, then you're in for a great time over the coming week.

Ever seen a shooting star? Want to see a whole lot more? Thought so, then you’re in luck.

Over this coming week we’re in for a ‘meteor shower’ called the Lyrids and it’s a perfect excuse to stay up late and enjoy the show. Meteor showers are caused by the Earth passing through the dusty trail of a comet that came by, perhaps hundreds of years ago.

“Of course we know them as ‘shooting stars’ but that’s not quite right,” said Dave Reneke from Australasian Science magazine.

“They’re really meteors, the fiery end of tiny visitors from space. Most meteors travel at a whopping 40 kilometres a second! That’s why they produce that trademark bright trail.”

The Earth gets hit by 100 tons of space rock each day so you’d think you could stick your head out the window any night of the week and easily catch a glimpse of a meteor’s final moments. Wish it was that easy!

The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak but still nice to look at. These meteors can produce bright luminous dust trails that last for several seconds. Watch for this year’s shower in the east after midnight from April 16 to April 25 but best on the 22nd.

“Here’s something to remember that not many people know,” Dave said. “When a piece of space rock comes through the atmosphere it’s a meteor – when it hits the ground it’s called meteorite – simple huh?”

Notice those heavy black clouds lately? Did you know the average cloud weighs as much as 100 elephants, 2,500 donkeys or 33 fat dinosaurs.That’s about 500,000kg! A typical cumulus cloud could dump 100 million litres of water on your head. Now you know why hail hurts.

Three planets are visible this month in the evening sky. Mars rising in the east around 8pm, Saturn also in the east at 8.30pm and blazing away fiercely after sunset is giant Jupiter. It looks like a brilliant star high in the east but train a small scope on it and everything changes. Go look!

“I’m often asked what’s the best piece of advice for a new telescope user and my answer is always the same – get away from the city lights!” Dave said. “Unless you’ve been living underground you’ll know that light pollution is slowly white washing the stars from view. How many of you can claim that your favourite stargazing spot is as dark now as it was five years ago, let alone 10 or 20?”

Depending on where you live, as little as 5 kilometres can make a big difference in the amount of light pollution. For the casual stargazer it won’t really matter if all you want is a quick look at the Moon, but for fainter objects do avoid the glare of street lights if you can, OK? 

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