How to Watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower This Month
The universe is throwing a meteor party this month, and all of humanity is invited. The annual Lyrid meteor shower will fill the night sky with shooting stars in late April. Lyrid meteors should be visible beginning on April 16 through April 25, but peak viewing is expected on the evening of April 21 through dawn April 22, and on the evening of April 22 through dawn April 23.
Lyrid meteors tend to be fast-moving and bright with long tails that can be visible for several seconds, and you might even catch a fireball or two. On an average year, you can expect to see around 10 meteors per hour, give or take, but sometimes the Lyrid meteor shower becomes a meteor storm, and you can see around a 100 shooting stars per hour. It’s hard to predict when a meteor shower will go above-and-beyond, but it might be this year, so you don’t want to miss it.
How to spot Lyrid meteors
Like real estate, meteor-spotting is all about location. For optimal viewing, find a place away from sources of light pollution and obstructions like trees and buildings. You want a broad view of the sky from a dark place. Once there, douse all sources of light to give your eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness, and settle in with a blanket and a warm drink. This year, the moon will be at a small sliver so conditions are just right, unless it’s cloudy.
To find the radiant of the shower—the place the meteors appear to originate—locate the Hercules constellation. It’s ascending in the east-northeast in the Northern Hemisphere in the spring, but isn’t the easiest constellation to spot, so use a star-watching app like SkyView to make it easy. It’s usually better to view meteors away from their radiant though. Staring at shooting stars seeming to come directly at you means the tails will appear shorter.
All about the Lyrid meteor shower
The meteors from Lyrid are caused by Earth passing through the trail of debris left by Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The comet was first identified in 1861, but the earliest human reaction to the Lyrid meteor shower was far earlier. Chinese astronomers first noted the Lyrids in 687 BC, writing, “at midnight, stars dropped down like rain.”
It’s relatively rare, but in some years, the Lyrid shower becomes a meteor storm and hundreds of shooting stars appear. In 1803, the Lyrid meteors inspired a Virginia newspaper reporter to write:
“Shooting stars. This electrical [sic] phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets.”
According to NASA, particularly impressive shower sightings took place in 1922 in Greece, 1945 in Japan, and 1982 in the United States.