The 2021 Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight! Here’s how to see it.
One of the most important “shooting star” groups of spring peaks tonight (April 21-22).
The famous Lyrid meteor shower will become visible in the Northern Hemisphere from around 10:30 p.m. local time and will continue overnight, weather permitting in your area of course. The best visibility will probably be before dawn, after the setting of the waxing gibbous moon; otherwise, you might have moonlight interference.
The individual meteors, or tiny space rocks, of the Lyrids appear when the Earth, moving in its orbit around the sun, sinks into the dusty trail of a long-extinct comet, called Thatcher, which swings near Earth all the 415 years (the last in 1861, exactly 160 years ago).
Related: Lyrid Meteor Shower 2021: When, where and how to see it
The radiant, or point from which shooting stars seem to emanate, is in the constellation Lyra above the horizon. You can find your way to Lyra by searching for Vega, one of the brightest stars in the northern sky. But be sure to look slightly away from Lyra, as meteors with the longest trails will appear well outside the constellation.
You don’t need telescopes or binoculars to see a meteor shower; your eyes will do. Dress warmly (April is still very cool in many parts of the United States) and go outside about 20 minutes before you begin your observations, to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark. Get away from any outside light you can and if possible use a lounge chair to avoid neck pain while looking up at the sky.
Technically, the Lyrids continue until April 30, but NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com you should see the most meteors Wednesday through Thursday morning (April 21 through April 22). “Get up early before dawn, after the moon has set. You have a good chance of seeing Lyrids this year,” Cooke said.
That said, NASA warns that the ideal viewing time window Thursday is very short – probably only about half an hour before the sky clears up just before 5 a.m.
Cooke predicted that sky watchers will see around 18 meteors per hour – depending on how dark your sky is, so stay away from light pollution where you can (and if it’s safe to do so, given that many parts of the world are currently under pandemic quarantine.)
Related: How to see the best meteor showers of 2021
The predicted amount of meteors visible this year is well within the usual range of 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Sometimes Lyrid meteor showers can produce gusts of up to 100 meteors per hour, but Cooke said the forecast for this year was highly unlikely in that regard. The last major meteor showers occurred in 1803, 1922 (96 per hour) and 1982 (80 per hour); The event of 1803 was especially spectacular when the people of Richmond, Virginia left their beds to see a downpour that seemed to come from all parts of the sky.
Any meteor you can see this year will probably stand out. Skywatching columnist Joe Rao says meteors are bright and fast, moving through the atmosphere at an average speed of 30 miles per second. About a quarter of the individual meteors will leave large trains across the sky, perhaps as many as five to ten of these meteors overnight with excellent conditions around the peak shower date.
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