Three millennia have passed since stargazers first first reported seeing the same meteor shower. Like clockwork, the Lyrids meteor shower begins each year on April 16 and continues to April 25. This year, the Lyrids’ peak is expected on the night of Monday, April 22.
Derived from the Greek word meteoros – meaning “high in the air” – meteors are bits of interplanetary debris that slam into Earth’s upper atmosphere at speeds up 45 miles (70 km) per second.
And although some meteors look bright enough that it seems you can almost touch them, actually they occur very high up, at altitudes of 75 miles (120 km).
Because they’re arriving so fast, it doesn’t take a very large particle to make a dramatic flash.
Typically they are no bigger than big sand grains and something the size of a pea can create a meteor that’s dramatically bright.
Those high velocities give each particle a lot of kinetic energy, which converts to heat due to friction in the upper atmosphere.
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This year’s Lyrids peak will coincide with the April Full Moon, unfortunately making the shower more challenging to view.
Not only will the moon be full and bright, it will be close to the radiant – the area of the sky where the meteors appear.
The Lyrids meteors look like they are coming from the constellation Lyra, meaning that Lyra is the radiant.
The shower starts only after the radiant rises in the sky so onlookers should check times to know when to head out to look to the heavens.
To zero in on the constellation Lyra even more, viewers should look at Vega, the brightest star in the constellation.
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How to see the Lyrids meteor shower:
To have the greatest chance of seeing the meteors, people need not look directly at Lyra as this will make the meteors appear to have short tails.
If viewers look at the sky as a whole, the meteors are more likely to appear with a long tail.
Those in the Northern Hemisphere will have the best chance of seeing the meteors after the moon goes down.
Stargazers should head somewhere away from light pollution and allow their eyes at least a half an hour to adjust to the dark.
They should also try and lay down or sit with their head tilted back looking east and upward while taking in as much as they sky possible.
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What causes the Lyrids?
The Lyrids come from the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.
Each year, around the same time, Earth passes through the space debris left over in space by the comet.
These pieces enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, creating the shooting stars viewers on Earth hope to see.