Backyard Observatory

The First Meteor Shower of Spring Peaks Tonight. Here's How to See It.

You can still get outside and enjoy stargazing while social distancing. Don't miss this.

lyrid meteor shower
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in northern Spain. | GETTY IMAGES/MATT PAYNE
A Perseid meteor along the Milky Way illuminates the dark sky near Villadiego in northern Spain. | GETTY IMAGES/MATT PAYNE

The weather has started to turn and you finally won't be miserable while sitting outside late into the night. The timing is perfect for the return of stunning meteor showers. We haven't had a significant meteor shower rain down beautiful streaks of light since January. That, however, will change this week with the Lyrid meteor shower.

The Lyrid meteor shower will peak overnight between Tuesday, April 21, and Wednesday, April 22, resulting in dazzling meteors zipping across the night sky. It's not as bombastic as the Perseid meteor shower, which puts on one of the best shows almost every year, but the Lyrids will still be a beautiful show on a night when Venus is shining bright in the western sky. The meteors produced by the shower are fast, but Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that it also often produces fireballs, which are brilliantly bright meteors. 

How to See the Lyrid Meteor Shower

More specifically, the shower will hit its peak in the predawn hours of April 22. Cooke says to expect to see around 15 meteors per hour. If you've got clear skies, you should be able to see them well. There will be an almost new moon in the sky, so its light won't interfere with your viewing as it did during almost every meteor shower in 2019.

If you're looking for the Lyrids from inside a city, you're probably not going to see much, if anything. You really need to get away from city lights and under dark skies, if you want to see the shower. That can be a little trickier than usual with the recommended social distancing, but it shouldn't be too hard to maintain a safe distance once you're somewhere dark enough to observe the meteors. 

Once you've found your spot, look to the southwest early in the night or almost directly overhead closer to the morning. You're looking for the constellation Lyra (Lyrids!) and the star Vega. That's the radiant or the point from which the meteors appear to emanate. However, you shouldn't just stare at the radiant. That's the case with any meteor shower, but the Lyrids often produce fast-moving meteors, and they'll be moving away from the radiant. 

What causes the Lyrid meteor shower?

All meteor showers are caused by the Earth plowing through the debris left behind by comets. This annual shower occurs when our planet hurtles through the dust from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. NASA says it's one of the oldest recorded meteor showers, with it having been observed by humans for more than 2,700 years. 

This year, the shower arrives during International Dark Sky Week, giving you a really good reason to recognize a week you might not otherwise have on the radar. 

If you can't go out the night of April 21, you'll still be able to see meteors the next couple of nights under the right conditions, but it won't be quite as spectacular as going on the night of the peak. 

The weather is getting warmer, but it'd probably be wise to bundle up a little. Also, you should bring something that will help you recline like a lawn chair or a blanket. Your neck is going to get awful sore if you're just craning up at the sky for a long time. Plus, it's going to be tough to find a place that will massage the knot out of your neck. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month, including May's Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Altenatively, you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.