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Meteor Shower and Rare False Dusk Over Oregon / Washington Coast? Yes, Please

Published 03/31/21 at 4:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Meteor Shower and Rare False Dusk Over Oregon / Washington Coast? Yes, Please

(Astoria, Oregon) – It's an action-packed nighttime sky this month for the Oregon coast and Washington coastline. You'll soon be able to see the Lyrid meteor shower in the beachy skies and there's a chance you can see the wowing but subtle rarity called the Zodiacal Light – or False Dusk. (Photo above courtesy NASA)

EarthSky.org has said the Lyrids may start showing up in small doses as early as this week. Normally, however, it's active between April 16 to 25, and in the northern hemisphere it's going to reach its peak just before dawn on April 22.

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Typically, even at its peak the Lyrids only get up to 10 to 15 meteors in an hour. They're usually not a heck of a lot brighter than stars, either. The moon will cause some light interruption as well until the later hours of the middle of the night.

According to Jim Todd of OMSI, all of this sparkly stuff in the skies is coming from the Earth entering a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher. Those little bits of comet burn up in the atmosphere about 60 miles above us (a little farther than the drive from Portland to Salem). They come through at around 110,000 miles per hour.

Some years, this has meant incredible silent fireworks.


“Occasionally, Earth passes through a dense region of the comet's tail and rates surge five- to ten-fold,” Todd said. “In 1982, for instance, observers were surprised by an outburst of 90 Lyrids per hour. Because Thatcher's tail has never been mapped in detail, the outbursts are unpredictable and could happen again at any time.”

Todd imparted some words of wisdom on spotting them.

“Meteor watching is an unaided-eye event but binoculars are handy for watching trails (persistent trains) that may hang in the sky for one or more seconds after a meteor's passage,” he said.

Sky watchers may be a bit spoiled this year because of the recent week's bright displays of fireballs. One – witnessed by Oregon Coast Beach Connection – was an extremely bright stellar mass that burned up a couple of weeks ago. Then last week many in the western U.S. saw the intense, slow, alien-like burn up of a SpaceX rocket.


Above: Zodiacal Light at Bend, Oregon courtesy David Lane

However, there's still a big surprise possible right now for those in the western U.S., including the Washington coast and Oregon beaches: the Zodiacal Light. It's subtle and you need to be in a dark spot, but that makes northwest beaches perfect, especially as it will appear off the oceanic horizon.

The Zodiacal Light is a weird, cone shape or wedge of light that flows upward just after dusk (or sometimes just before dawn). According to NASA and astronomy publications like EarthSky.org, right about now is when you might be able to see it just after sunset. It is definitely not a guarantee, however.

It could be visible anytime now through April 11, according to astronomers.

If it shows up, it'll be about an hour after sunset, and then it may get easily confused with blue hour – that period of colorful, post-sunset display. The False Dusk could last as long as two hours.

What is it? That's a long story, though scientists have always known it's from cosmic dust particles around the solar system. There's strong evidence now it could be actually coming from Mars. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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MORE PHOTOS BELOW






(Above: the Zodiacal Light in the eastern U.S., courtesy Stephen Rahn / Flickr)


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