The Lyrid meteor shower peaks on the night of April 21-22 this year. The Lyrids aren’t a major meteor shower, but we haven’t had a good one since last December’s Geminids, so it’s worth taking a look for. The Lyrids can be a decent sight, but only if you’re willing to maximize your viewing circumstances.
There are two secrets to getting the best view. First, get out of town – leave the lights of the city behind you. Light pollution from the city will blind you from most of the meteors that occur – you’ll only see the very brightest ones.
Second, stay up late or get up early. All meteor showers are much better after midnight, since at that time our part of the earth is on the “bow” of the earth as it sails around the sun – we’re heading right into the cosmic dust that causes the shower. You can expect about 10-20 meteors per hour during the peak viewing time before dawn on Thursday, April 22. Before and after that date, the rates drop considerably.
With all of this effort, is it worth going out to see? Well, maybe. Occasionally, the Lyrids surprise us with outbursts of several times the regular rate. In 1945 and again in 1982, rates jumped up to over 100 meteors an hour – that’s more than one a minute. This activity happens when the earth goes through a clump of dust in the comet’s tail – sort of an interplanetary dust bunny. Unpredictable, but pretty cool if you see it – like so many things in the sky.