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News Astronomy

The Lyrids: The End of the Meteor Shower Drought

Lyrid Meteor Shower
A Lyrid meteor streaks through the Milky Way in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, U.S. by Bettymaya Foott

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. In the Northern Hemisphere, Lyra will rise in the northeast between 9-10 pm. 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. 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.

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.