This Week's Meteor Shower Breaks a Long Drought & Welcomes Spring
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak on April 22.
Much like meteors during a shower, meteor showers dot the calendar not in an evenly distributed pattern throughout the year but in deluges and droughts. Fortunately, a drought is coming to an end.
The Lyrid meteor shower will peak the night of April 22, ending a long stretch without a significant meteor shower and bringing us closer to the year's biggest showers. The Lyrids aren't explosive like the Perseids or Geminids, but they do manage to bring back meteor showers to our stargazing calendar.
Here's what you need to know to get out and see the Lyrid meteor shower.
How to See the Lyrid Meteor Shower
This year, the Lyrids will bring around a dozen meteors per hour when it hits its peak. Unfortunately, a close-to-full moon may make viewing less than perfect. If you're a glass-half-full person, you'd now note that the moon rises late, so there will be a short period after midnight when the moon isn't up. So, you've got some time when the shower should be at its best (after midnight) without light interference from the moon.
At that point, EarthSky suggests you might see around 10 to 15 meteors per hour as the Lyrids hit their peak. Space.com puts that peak a little higher, suggesting you may see 18 meteors per hour at the peak.
Like almost any meteor shower, you won't see much if you're stargazing in an urban area. The light pollution from cities will obscure many stars and meteors. That's especially true if you're out when the light from the moon is adding to the light interference.
You can look anywhere in the sky to find meteors, but it may help to orient yourself by finding the constellation Lyra and the star Vega. That's the radiant or 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. An app like Star Walk 2 is free and can help you find those objects in the night sky.
What causes the Lyrid meteor shower?
Most meteor showers are caused by the Earth plowing through the debris left behind by a comet. The Lyrids one happens when our unlikely rock blows through the dust from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. NASA says the Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded meteor showers. Humans have observed it for more than 2,700 years. You're connecting to that long history of enjoying the Lyrids if you're out there.
If you can't go out on the night of April 22, you can spot meteors for a couple of nights around the peak if you're under dark skies. Though, it won't be nearly as spectacular as you'd see during the peak. (And the 10-15 meteors produced by the Lyrids at their peak is relatively mild as it is.)
Bring something to help you recline, like a lawn chair or a blanket. Your friends will look at you like you're a meteor shower pro, and your neck would get awful sore if you're just craning up at the sky for a couple of hours.