MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - We haven’t had much to look at thus far in 2021 in the astronomy department. That changes later this month into the first week of May with two meteor showers and a supermoon with a pretty nifty name.
The first event is the Lyrid meteor shower, which will peak the night of April 21st into the predawn hours of April 22nd. The Lyrids can be referred to as April’s shooting stars, and is one of the annual meteor showers worth checking out.
You can see 10-20 meteors per hour, on average, when peak occurs. The Lyrids have a radiant high in the sky after midnight, so if you venture out closer to dawn on April 22nd all you have to do is look up!
The Lyrids can produce fireballs -- exceptionally bright meteors -- so it is always considered a worthwhile shower. Unfortunately the moon will be nearly 70% illuminated at peak, but if you wait until 1-2 hours before dawn the moon will have set.
Next up is a less-known shower: the Eta Aquariids.
This meteor shower produces 10-30 shooting stars per hour in the southern half of the United States on its peak night. In 2021 that will be the night of May 4th into the the predawn hours of May 5th.
You’ll want to be looking towards the eastern horizon that night, especially after 2am. That’s when the display should be at its best. The moon will only be 38% illuminated, so moonlight shouldn’t have a big negative impact.
The Eta Aquariids aren’t known for fireballs, but is known for its swift meteors with persistent trains. In other words, these shooting stars oftentimes feature those awesome tails that stay visible once the meteor itself passes in the sky.
Also of note: Eta Aquariid meteors are actually debris from Halley’s comet!
Sandwiched between these two springtime meteor showers will be the 2nd-brightest supermoon of 2021! It’s technically only one of two supermoons in all of 2021 depending on the definition you use.
The Pink Moon -- as April’s full moon is often called -- will rise on the evening of the 26th, reaching peak brightness just after 10:30pm CDT. It will appear slightly brighter and larger than an ordinary full moon, especially when it’s nearest the horizon.
That’s because the orbit of the moon is elliptical. So every now and then you’ll have the full moon occur on the day that the moon is actually closest to earth in its orbit. That’s the definition of ‘supermoon.’
So in 2021, we get a Pink Supermoon to look forward to in late April. Despite its name, the moon will not appear pink at any point. The name stems from the bloom of ground phlox, a pink flower that’s common in North America according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.