Hongkongers may not get to wish on many shooting stars tonight, as cloudy weather and light pollution will make it difficult to view the annual Lyrid Meteor Shower.
The meteor shower is caused by a comet which sends bits of debris into space as it travels around the sun. It will be visible tonight and tomorrow night, according to the Hong Kong Space Museum website. The best time to catch it will be from tonight at 11pm until 5am tomorrow morning, according to David Hui, Scientific Officer at Hong Kong Observatory (HKO).
“The Lyrids will slowly begin to rise in the north-east after midnight,” said Hui.
“Citizens are more likely to catch the Lyrids as the dawn gets closer.”
However, the observatory predicts that the weather tonight will be “mainly cloudy with isolated showers.” Hui said clouds would make it difficult to see the meteors, but viewers may still be able to spot some through gaps in the clouds. He predicted that people would be able to see around six or seven meteors per hour.
Hui said that visibility tonight will be made worse by heavy light pollution and the waning gibbous moon. “The brightness of the almost full moon will block the view of the meteors, which are relatively dim,” he said.
He added that the Lyrids are generally difficult to see no matter where you are, because they have a low Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR). This refers to the number of meteors an observer would see during the peak of the shower, in the best possible conditions.
“According the International Meteor Organization, the maximum number of shooting stars an observer would see in an hour of peak activity under excellent weather conditions is just 18,” said Hui. “The number is quite low, when compared to meteor showers of more than 100ZHR.”
Based on previous studies, Hui said that viewers should expect to see only one-third of the suggested ZHR, which is about six or seven shooting stars per hour.
However, he added that even if you miss the meteors tonight or tomorrow morning, you may have another chance to glimpse them on Wednesday or Thursday from midnight to sunrise.
“In general, citizens will have the best chance of seeing the shower from any location with dark skies, away from city lights. It’s also best to pick a site with an unobstructed view to the east,” said Hui.
Watching the meteor shower with the naked eye is absolutely fine, he said. “Using a telescope will only limit your scope of view. It is not ideal for catching shooting stars, especially as they streak across the sky in the blink of an eye.”