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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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