But that’s just the beginning. The lyrids build up to a peak in the evening of April 21 to the early morning hours of April 22. If you can not get out that night, or the weather does not cooperate where you are, a night before or after the summit is also expected to present a pretty good viewing opportunity.
The lyrids do not produce a whole lot of meteors, perhaps 10 to 15 per hour, but are more likely to include bright, dramatic fireballs than other major showers. Every couple of decades we get an eruption during the Lyrids, which increases the speed up to approx. 100 per hour. It is not predicted to happen in 2021, but such things are also notoriously difficult to predict.
The source of Lyrids is the cloud of waste left behind by a comet named C / 1861 G1 Thatcher, which was last seen in the 19th century and will not pass through the inner solar system again for more than two centuries. Each year, however, our planet drifts through the dust cloud it left behind on previous visits. Small pitch stones and other pieces of dust and dirt collide with our atmosphere and burn up high above us, producing the fleeting little light shows so many are willing to stay up late or wake up early to catch up.
This year with a moon that will be more than two-thirds full at the top of the Lyrids, it’s probably best to try to see the show before dawn and after the moon has set you.
2020 Perseid meteor shower photos shine bright in a dark year
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But that does not mean that viewing in the evening will necessarily be fruitless. The hours after dusk can offer a good chance to catch a bright “Earth grazer” along the horizon.
When you go out to look for Lyrids, get as far away from light pollution as possible and find a place like an open field or a hilltop with a wide, unobstructed view of the night sky. Lie down, let your eyes adjust, relax and just watch.
It is not necessary to look at a particular part of the sky, but the Lyrids seem to rise outward from their name-picture constellation Lyra and travel away from that part of the sky that spokes on a wheel. So if you can find Lyra and orient yourself towards it, it’s good, but definitely not necessary.
Stay warm, be safe and enjoy the space show! If your amateur astrophotographers catch some big Lyrid fireballs, share them with me on Twitter @EricCMack.
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