The annual Lyrid meteor shower will peak this weekend, sending fleeting bright streaks across the night sky at the rate of up to 18 per hour.
The Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded showers, known for their bright and fast meteors, or “shooting stars,” that race through the sky at about 29 miles per second. On occasion, an especially luminous meteor appears as a flash called a fireball, according to NASA.
Occurring every April, the Lyrid meteor shower is caused by tiny dust particles from space burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. As our planet moves through a trail of debris left behind by the comet Thatcher, the burning dust produces streaks of fiery light.
Though the Lyrids last for two weeks, anyone hoping to catch a glimpse this year should plan to be outside for the short peak, between April 21 and 23.
The best way to view the Lyrids is to find a very dark location, preferably away from cities and areas with artificial light. In general, the light reflected by the moon could also interfere with the shower, making it difficult to spot the faint meteors. But this year, the peak will follow a new moon, so the mostly dark moon will disappear below the horizon soon after the sunset and not cause any disruption - making it a potentially excellent year to view the radiant phenomenon.
Viewing will be best from the Northern Hemisphere, and to get the ideal perspective, NASA recommends lying on your back with your feet facing east. The meteors will appear to come from a small area in the sky, known as the radiant. It’s located near the constellation Lyra, giving the shower its name.
However, it’s actually better to “not look toward the radiant itself but far from it, having it on the edge of the view angle,” says Peter Vereš, a research scientist. Looking directly at the radiant will make the meteors seem shorter; scientists call this foreshortening.
It may take up to half an hour for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark - but the show should last until dawn. So, fingers crossed for clear skies!
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