For the annual Lyrid meteor shower this year, Colorado night sky viewing is a battle between a nearly full moon and cloud cover. Here is what you need to know to plan for the best meteor viewing.
What: According to NASA, the Lyrids have been observed for 2,700 years and originated from the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. During the peak this year on April 22, about 18 meteors per hour can be seen. The average is 10-20 meteors per hour.
When: April 16-30, 2021. Peak April 21-22. The best viewing times are after moonset in the predawn hours or any time between 10 pm and dawn.
Where: The meteors radiate from a point in the sky near the Lyra constellation or near the star Vega. The position of this constellation will rise through the evening. The good news is these meteors can usually be seen with the naked eye, so just look up!
Avoiding moonlight and light pollution: The moon will be setting after 4 am for the next several days, perhaps slightly earlier depending on how much of your western horizon is dominated by mountains. Between moonset and dawn will be the darkest viewing conditions. The next full moon is on April 26, so keep in mind the illumination will become greater each night until then.
You can certainly still see meteors in the middle of the night with the moon up, just be sure to leave the cities behind. Head into the plains or the mountains. In the Pikes Peak Region, the Florissant Fossil Beds or the Calhan Paint Mines are good choices. Westcliffe, CO, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park are classified as International Dark Sky Places. You can search for more dark sky areas in Colorado on the darksitefinder website.
Once you find your spot, turn off your car lights and avoid your cell phone. Let your eyes adjust for several minutes, cozy up in a sleeping bag, and enjoy the show.
Weather conditions: For the first few days of viewing, Colorado has had quite a bit of cloud cover. Conditions will be gradually clearing in the next few days.
On Thursday night, in southern Colorado sky cover will be between 40-70%. The fewest clouds will be east of I-25 and south of HWY 50.
By Friday night there will be considerably less cloud cover only 5-20%, with mostly clear conditions this weekend.
Temperatures will be in the 30s Thursday and Friday night and in the 40s Saturday night.