Apr 13, 2024 - Science

How to behold the Lyrids meteor shower starting next week

A shooting star of the Lyrid meteor shower over a ground station in China in April 2021.

A shooting star of the Lyrid meteor shower over a ground station in China in April 2021. Photo: Zhang Gang/VCG via Getty Images

Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to see one of the oldest known meteor showers starting next week if they can avoid bad weather and excessive artificial light.

Why it matters: The Lyrids meteor shower has been viewed by humans annually for around 2,700 years, with the first recorded sighting of them going back to 687 B.C. by the Chinese.

How to see the Lyrids:

The Lyrids will begin on April 15 and will last until April 29, but the peak of the shower will be around 9:23 UTC (5:23am ET) on April 22, according to EarthSky.

  • If conditions are ideal, viewers could see around 10 to 15 meteors per hour during the peak, though 100 per hour have sometimes occurred.

Yes, but: This year, the next full moon will be on April 23, so the extra light from the waxing gibbous moon during the peak will drown out many faint meteors.

  • Viewers in the the Southern Hemisphere will only be able to see a few Lyrid meteors.

What are the Lyrids?

A shooting star — or a meteor — is a piece of rock or dust in space that collides with Earth's atmosphere at incredibly high speeds and quickly burns up, leaving a streak of light in the night sky.

  • The rock and dust that cause the Lyrids originate from Comet Thatcher, which was first discovered in 1861.
  • As the comet courses through space along its 415-year orbit around the Sun, it emits debris that eventually spreads into a dusty trail. And every year around late April, the Earth passes through this trail, causing a spectacular fiery light show in the night sky.

Why is the shower called the Lyrids?

It gets its name from the constellation Lyra, since the meteors' radiant point —or where they appear to originate from — is the celestial lyre, but this is just an optical illusion.

  • Luckily, Lyra is relatively easy to find on a clear night, since it contains the star Vega, the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere and the fifth brightest in the whole sky.

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