Each year, the Lyrid Meteor Shower is active in mid-late April when the Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). This marks the end of the meteor shower drought over the last few months. So, while it isn’t the most prolific meteor shower and delivers only about 5-20 meteors per hour at its peak–its arrival is embraced by meteor shower enthusiasts. Although it doesn’t happen often, the Lyrids are known to have outbursts on average about once a century, where the shower intensifies and can produce up to 100 meteors per hour. Lyrids tend to be bright, making them stand out well against the background sky. Another fun fact about the Lyrids–they are one of the oldest known meteor showers with records dating back to ancient China in 687 B.C.
The Lyrids are active each year from roughly April 16-25. This year, they are expected to peak in the predawn hours of April 22. No matter where you are, the best time to watch is between midnight and dawn, after the moon sets. This handy tool can help you figure out when the moon will set where you live.
The meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Lyra (the Harp). Look for the bright star Vega to easily spot it. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, look toward your northern horizon; even if you don’t see Vega because it is below your horizon, you will be looking in the right direction to see the Lyrid meteors. This year, the last quarter moon might make it tricky to see the Lyrids, which is why you’ll want to head outside in the late evening of April 21 and 22, before moonrise, to see if you can catch a glimpse of the Lyrids at their peak. When you go out, give your eyes at least 20 minutes to dark-adapt. But don’t look directly toward the radiant because you might miss the meteors with the longest tails. Once the moon rises, you can try to sit in the shadow of a house or tree that blocks out the moonlight to get a better view. You can also use this tool to see what time the meteors will be most visible at your location. If you can, try to get away from light pollution and observe the Lyrids from a dark sky location. See if there’s a certified International Dark Sky Place near you. If not, try using a general light pollution map like this one to find a spot with less light pollution.
To celebrate the start of International Dark Sky Week on April 22, we will be livestreaming the peak of the Lyrids from China on IDA’s Facebook and YouTube. More information on the livestream is located here.
Remember, don’t get too caught up in how many meteors you see–or don’t see. The most important thing is to get out and enjoy the night sky.