Meteor shower peaks this weekend; giant asteroid also passing by

Long-exposure of a meteor going through the constellation Orion during the Perseids meteor shower.

NEW ORLEANS – Better weather heading through the back half of the week and into the weekend is great news for folks hoping to sneak a peak at the Lyrid meteor shower as it nears it peak on Saturday.

The Lyrids will peak in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday morning, after 3 a.m. but before dawn, at around 15-20 meteors an hour. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, it does translate into a meteor around every three to five minutes.

The Lyrids received their names because the meteors appear to be radiating from near the constellation Lyra. “Radiating” basically means the meteors will be coming from that point in the sky.

You can find Lyra this time of year by looking in the northeastern sky. The star Vega is the brightest star in the constellation and the meteors will be coming from just to the right of it. Vega will rise above the horizon around 10 p.m. and be visible through dawn.

Courtesy: NASA

As with most meteor showers, if you are expecting celestial fireworks in the sky, you’ll be disappointed. That phenomenon is called a meteor storm and is much, much rarer. Most meteors you see are the result of a particle the size of a grain of sand streaking through our atmosphere.

However, on some occasions, objects the size of small rocks streak through the atmosphere leaving behind a streak of brilliance in their path. These “shooting stars” are also known as fireballs. It may be possible to see one this weekend, but the Lyrids aren’t known for regularly producing fireballs.

In addition to the Lyrids, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper will be brushing past Earth. Well, brushing past in the relative sense. Scientists consider the asteroid too-close-for-comfort, but it will be about 1 million miles away at its closest approach.

That’s almost five times the distance from the Earth to the Moon. If you want to see this asteroid, you’ll need a pair of binoculars or a telescope on Wednesday night when it makes that close approach.

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