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Lyrid Meteor Shower 2019: When, Where & How to See It

In late April, skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere will get a view of the Lyrid meteor shower, the dusty trail of a comet with a centuries-long orbit around the sun. The Lyrid meteors streak across the sky between April 16 and April 25, so skywatchers have a chance to see them during that window, weather permitting.

The peak of the Lyrid meteor shower will be April 22, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. (Some have been reporting the peak as April 21-22, and others as April 22-23, but both nights should have good views.) As with most meteor showers, the peak viewing time will be before dawn. According to Cooke, a waning gibbous moon (very close to full) will wash out all but the very brightest meteors this year during the peak, however.

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Astrophotographer Mark Lissick sent in a photo of Lyrid meteors and the Milky Way, taken on April 22, 2013, in Hope Valley, California (near Lake Tahoe).
(Image credit: Mark Lissick/Wildlight Nature Photography)

Cooke said the average Lyrid shower produces 15 to 20 meteors per hour; this year, the meteor shower may hit about 20 per hour. Some years, the Lyrid meteor shower intensifies and can produce up to 100 meteors per hour in what's called an "outburst," but it is difficult to predict exactly when that will happen. 

"People say there is some periodicity there," Cooke said, "but the data doesn't support that." Although there is an average of 30 years between these outbursts, that's only an average; the actual number of years between the events varies, Cooke said. [Amazing Lyrid Meteor Shower Photos]

Lyrid meteors will appear to radiate from this position in the sky on April 22, 2018; here shown at 1 a.m. local time over New York City.
(Image credit: Starry Night software)

Where to look

The radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to originate — will be high in the evening sky in the constellation Lyra to the northeast of Vega, one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky this time of year. Don't look directly toward the radiant, though, because you might miss the meteors with the longest tails.

A graphic from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing where in the sky the Lyrid meteor shower can be seen, until April 30.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL)

The Lyrid meteor shower is of medium brightness, but not as luminous as the famous Perseid meteor shower in August, which tends to produce more prominent trails, Cooke said.

Photographer Islam Hassan captured this photo of a Lyrid meteor over Egypt on April 25, 2015.
(Image credit: Islam Hassan/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

What causes the Lyrids?

Lyrid meteors are little pieces of Comet Thatcher, a long-period comet that orbits the sun about once every 415 years. Pieces of debris left in the comet's wake, however, make an appearance every year. (Comet Thatcher's most recent perihelion, or closest approach to the sun, was in 1861. It won't be back until the year 2276.) 

Meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the path of a comet, colliding with a trail of comet crumbs. That's why they happen around the same time every year and appear to originate from specific points in the sky. As they burn up in the atmosphere, the meteors leave bright streaks in the sky commonly referred to as "shooting stars." [Infographic: How Meteor Showers Work]

Lyrid meteors come in fast — though not as fast as the Leonids, which peak in November, Cooke said. "The Leonids hit us head-on," he said. "The Lyrids are more like hitting the left front fender."

The Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded showers, Cooke said, with observations going back to 687 B.C. You don't need any kind of special equipment to see the meteors; just look up at the dark sky, be patient and enjoy the show. 

Editor's note: If you snap a great photo Lyrid meteor shower that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and observing location to spacephotos@space.com.

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