Back to: Weekend Sky Report
Lyrid Meteor Shower
April 17, 2020
In 1861, Comet Thatcher appeared in the night sky, as it does about every 400 years. When it passed through, it left behind tiny pieces in its orbit as the comet was cooked on its way around the sun. Every April, the Earth passes through this orbit, and as the pieces get pulled in by the earth’s gravity, they burn up and give us a show we call… the Lyrid Meteor Shower.
The Lyrids are active all weekend, so you may see some tonight under dark skies, but the big peak comes early this coming Wednesday morning. This year we’re expecting 10 to 15 meteors per hour. For a meteor shower, this one’s in the middle. The Perseids in August and the Geminids in December have more frequent meteors, and there are many other showers throughout the year that have fewer.
If you ask me, all of them are worth a look… but some are better than others.
If you do check them out, you’ll need to know where to look. Luckily, this shower emanates near one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Vega is part of the constellation Lyra the lyre, from which the lyrids take their name. Vega rises in the northeast around 10pm. Early Wednesday morning when the lyrids are peaking, you’ll find Vega HIGH in the eastern sky.
To target the exact spot in the sky where you’ll see the most meteors, find Vega and hold a clenched fist out at arms length. With Vega to the left of your fist, look at the spot in the sky to the right of your fist.
If you watch this coming week, you’ll be seeing a meteor shower that observers in ancient China recorded over 2600 years ago.