Lyrid meteor shower to peak on Earth Day: Here’s how to watch
Daniel Reinhardt/picture alliance/Getty Images
This view of the starry sky shining over the Baltic Sea occurred when the Lyrids passed through in 2020.
Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images/Getty Images
This is a meteor from the Lyrids as seen in the sky in Schermbeck, Germany, April 22, 2020.
In this image released by NASA, Comet Neowise, left, is seen in the eastern horizon above Earth in this image taken from the International Space Station on Sunday, July 5, 2020. (NASA via AP)
Comet Neowise soars in the horizon of the early morning sky in this view from the near the grand view lookout at the Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction, Colo., Thursday, July 9, 2020. The newly discovered comet is streaking past Earth, providing a celestial nighttime show after buzzing the sun and expanding its tail. (Conrad Earnest via AP)
The comet Neowise or C/2020 F3 is seen over the Turets, Belarus, 110 kilometers (69 miles) west of capital Minsk, early Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
The comet Neowise or C/2020 F3 is seen behind an Orthodox church over the Turets, Belarus, 110 kilometers (69 miles) west of capital Minsk, early Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
The comet Neowise or C/2020 F3 can be seen before sunrise behind a tower of Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Bavaria, Germany, early Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa via AP)
The comet Neowise is seen from near Effingham, Kan., Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
The Comet Neowise or C/2020 F3 is seen before sunrise over Balatonmariafurdo, Hungary, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. It passed closest to the Sun on July 3 and its closest approach to Earth will occur on July 23. (Gyorgy Varga/MTI via AP)
Comet Neowise appears over Mount Washington in the night sky as seen from Dee Wright Observatory on McKenzie Pass east of Springfield, Ore., Tuesday, July 14, 2020. According to NASA the lower tail, which appears broad and fuzzy, is the dust tail created when dust lifts off the surface of the comet's nucleus and trails behind the comet in its orbit. The upper tail is the ion tail, which is made up of gases that have been ionized by losing electrons in the sun's intense light. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via AP)
Comet Neowise streaks across the night sky over Wolf Lake in Brimson, Minn., Tuesday night, July 14, 2020. Comet C/2020 F3 Neowise is a bright comet that only passes close enough for viewing on Earth once every 6,800 years or so. The comet streaked across the sky over Wolf Lake in Brimson, on July 14, between 10 and 11 p.m. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via AP)
Every year from January to mid-April, we experience a “meteor drought,” without a single shower for months.
That all ends this year on Thursday, Earth Day, with the first show of the season: the annual Lyrid meteor shower.
“These dazzling meteors are fast and bright, with a striking golden trail of dust streaking behind them,” CNN meteorologist Judson Jones said.
The Lyrids, which are best seen from the Northern Hemisphere, have been observed for 2,700 years, according to NASA. During its peak, this shower will feature about 10 meteors per hour.
You might even spot a fireball flying across the sky or the glowing dust trail the meteors frequently leave behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere.
As with all meteor showers, the darker the sky, the more visible the Lyrids will be. If you want to view them, you’ll have your best luck away from urban areas where city lights can obstruct the view.
“Light pollution is one of the biggest struggles when trying to see meteors, and it seems to be getting worse each year,” Jones said.
But there is one other factor that impacts light as well: the moon. This year, the moon will be in its waxing gibbous phase; it will be about 70% illuminated. Since the moon will be so bright, it’s suggested you view the sky after moonset and before sunrise, according to EarthSky.
Between midnight and dawn, the Lyrid meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky, according to the American Meteor Society. The best time for viewing them will be the last hour before the start of morning twilight: around 4-5 a.m. local Daylight Saving Time.
After you’ve decided on your viewing location and time, come prepared with a blanket and simply lie back, with your feet facing east, and look toward the sky. Take 30 minutes beforehand to let your eyes adjust to the dark, without looking at your phone.
Be patient, as the AMS suggests: “Serious observers should watch for at least an hour as numerous peaks and valleys of activity will occur.”
If your eye catches a meteor in the sky, you’ll be observing one of the lost pieces of Comet Thatcher, the source of the Lyrid meteors. These fragments fly into our upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour as Earth’s orbit crosses its path.
“When these pieces interact with our atmosphere, they burn up to reveal the fiery, colorful streaks you can find in our night sky,” Jones said.
If you miss the meteors this week but still want to gaze at the sky, see next week’s “pink” full supermoon on April 26. While the moon won’t actually be pink, it will appear extra bright since supermoons are slightly closer to Earth.