You may not be able to see the moon in the sky tonight, but if you look up for long enough at a dark, clear sky, you may catch some "shooting stars."
The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks overnight tonight (April 21) and into the early hours of Wednesday (April 22), less than a day before the new moon. Without any glaring moonlight to obstruct the view, skywatchers will have an excellent view of the Lyrids this year — weather permitting.
From a dark, clear sky, observers in the Northern Hemisphere can expect to see as many as 10 to 20 meteors per hour during the shower's peak. Because the shower is active from mid- to late April, some Lyrid meteors may still appear before and after the peak, but tonight will be your best chance to see them.
Video: Fireballs! Lyrid meteors captured by NASA all-sky cameras (opens in new tab)
Related: Lyrid meteor shower 2020: When, where & how to see it
The shower's peak will last for a few hours, but maximum activity is expected to occur around 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) on Wednesday, according to the Observer's Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. That's about 20 hours before the moon reaches its new phase at 10:26 p.m. EDT (0226 GMT). That tiny sliver of a nearly-new moon still won't be visible in the night sky, because the moon will be below the horizon. In New York City, for example, the moon sets at 6:23 p.m. local time tonight and rises again at 5:50 a.m. tomorrow.
To spot the Lyrids, find a dark sky away from light pollution and look up — ideally while lying on your back, so you don't strain your neck. Lyrid meteors will appear to originate from a point in the sky on the border between the constellations Hercules and Lyra (home of the bright star Vega). This apparent point of origin, known as the meteor shower's radiant, will be in the northeast after sunset and almost directly overhead in the hours before dawn.
Once you've located the radiant, don't just stare at that spot all night. Longer streaks tend to appear farther from the shower's radiant, so you might miss the best meteors if your eyes are glued on that singular spot all night (also, focusing on a single point in the dark for so long might strain your eyes).
So, since lying down on the ground is both more comfortable and will give you the best view of the entire sky, we suggest you kick back and relax to make the most of this brilliant, cosmic event.
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 email@example.com (opens in new tab).
- The most amazing Lyrid meteor shower photos of all time
- How to see the best meteor showers of 2020
- How meteor showers work (infographic)
Email Hanneke Weitering at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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I enjoyed great, clear skies last night with temperature 5C. Corona Borealis (seven stars) and Eta Coronae Borealis star distinct, no trouble viewing unaided eyes, limiting magnitude down to 5.6 or so where I am at in small farm fields and area. No street lighting or other lights around, much of the area darker now in surrounding regions. I enjoyed some binocular, 10x50 views of fuzzy ball, M13 in Hercules too. 5 bright Lyrids were visible shooting very fast in different directions from the radiant and a number of fainter Lyrids visible too, perhaps 4th to 5th magnitudes. The data I have on Lyrid meteors, Lyrids zip 49 km/s so shoot by quickly. The 5 bright Lyrids I saw, one as bright as Vega or near 0.0 apparent magnitude, moving eastward away from the radiant, some others 1st to 2nd magnitude I estimate. It was a good night for Lyrid meteors in small farming areas with plenty of fields, and woods vs. areas with lighting around. I notice now with the COVID-19 lockup, the sky is darker where I am at, fainter stars come out to play too (5.7 or so). Satellites and ISS pass by at 8 km/s compared to Lyrid meteors 49 km/s. Streak, zip, and gone 😊 Some Lyrid meteors streaked across Bootes past Leo and to the WSW sky, others zipped by Ursa Major moving NW. I sat outside in my *meteor chair* enjoying the time---Rod