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Lyrid meteor shower to splash across our skies

If you missed — or didn’t get enough of — last week’s “Blood Moon” you have another chance to catch a glimpse of another unique celestial event.

This week is prime viewing time for the Lyrid meteor shower, a major meteor show that can bedazzle viewers when the night is clear with a display of up to 20 meteors an hour streaking across the night sky.

The best chance to catch a glimpse of the streaking meteors runs through early Friday, with the optimum time between midnight to dawn.

The height of the show is expected to coincide — perhaps appropriately enough — with Earth Day.

Jane Houston Jones, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, says in a video release:

 “This month’s Lyrid meteor shower peaks Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, but you’ll have the opportunity to spot some Lyrids until dawn Friday. The peak rate is expected to be 15 to 20 meteors per hour. The third quarter moon rises an hour past midnight, brightening the sky. But the  moon will only obscure the fainter meteors. Luckily, the Lyrids are known to produce bright meteors, many with persistent trains.”

The Lyrid meteor shower comes on display when the earth moves into a field of debris from what’s officially termed  Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, or more commonly called,  Comet Thatcher.

The meteors are actually part of that debris, often only about the size of a grain of sand, that illuminate the sky as they disintegrate when they hit the earth’s atmosphere.

Though not usually as impressive as the summer show of the Perseids meteor shower, astronomers say during peak times as many as 100 meteors have been seen during the Lyrid  shower.

A wide area of Northern California and the western U.S. is in an area that considers “good” for viewing the meteors, while the Bay Area is in a strip considered only “fair.”  And of course, there’s no guarantee night skies in the region will be clear for the meteor show.

So, if it’s overcast during prime viewing time, you still have a chance to see the meteors through a NASA-provided live Ustream view of the show of the skies above its Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.  NASA’s offering, of course, weather permitting,  is set to begin around 5:30 p.m. PST on Tuesday.

John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.

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