The First Big Meteor Shower in Months Peaks Tonight
The last major display took place all the way back in early January.
The last significant meteor shower took place back in January, when the Quadrantid meteor shower helped us ring in the new year. It's been a while since there's been an occasion to head out into the night to hunt meteors. Though, given the timing, it's probably been a while since you've wanted to sit outside for hours.
This month, the Lyrid meteor shower returns, peaking the night of April 21 into the morning of April 22. It's not the most stunning meteor shower of the year, mostly because it can't compare to the more wowing displays like the Perseids or the Geminids, which produce far more meteors per hour. Still, any meteor shower is an adequate excuse to head out for some stargazing.
Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist that stargazers should expect to see around 10-20 meteors per hour in 2021. It's a decent display, but it won't compete with the up to 100 meteors per hour you can expect to see with the year's most active display, the Perseid meteor shower in August.
Unfortunately, it will not be a perfect night for meteor shower viewing. There's going to be a first-quarter moon, the light of which can wash out many of the meteors early in the night. Cooke says your best bet is to head out in the few hours before dawn, after the moon has set, on April 22. That's the time when you'll be able to maximize the number of meteors you can see. Welcome spring by spending some time outside in the warm weather.
What causes the Lyrid meteor shower?
Almost all meteor showers are caused by the Earth plowing through the debris left behind by comets. This one happens when our habitable rock hurtles through the dust from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. NASA says it's one of the oldest recorded meteor showers. It has been observed by humans for more than 2,700 years.
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. You'll see far fewer meteors, but they're still out there if you look.
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 couple of hours.
Ready to go stargazing?
Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or 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, the best meteor showers of 2021, or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.