The Lyrid meteor shower of 2021 peaks tonight! Here's how to see it.

A Lyrid meteor lights up the sky over Schermbeck, Germany, on April 22, 2020.
A Lyrid meteor lights up the sky over Schermbeck, Germany, on April 22, 2020. (Image credit: Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images/Getty Images)

One of springtime's most prominent "shooting star" groups peaks overnight tonight (April 21-22).

The famous Lyrid meteor shower will become visible in the Northern Hemisphere beginning at about 10:30 p.m. local time and continuing overnight, weather permitting in your area of course. The best visibility will likely be before dawn, after the waxing gibbous moon sets; otherwise, you may have some interference from moonlight.

Related: Moon phases

The individual meteors, or tiny space rocks, of the Lyrids appear when the Earth, moving in its orbit around the sun, plows into the dusty trail of a long-departed comet, called Thatcher, that swings by Earth every 415 years (the last time being in 1861, exactly 160 years ago). 

Related: Lyrid meteor shower 2021: When, where & how to see it

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The radiant, or point that the shooting stars appear to emanate from, is in the Lyra constellation high above the horizon. You can find your way to Lyra by looking for Vega, one of the brightest stars of the northern sky. But make sure to look slightly away from Lyra, because the meteors with the longest trails will appear well outside of the constellation.

You don't need telescopes or binoculars to view a meteor shower; your eyes will do. Dress warmly (April is still very chilly in many U.S. regions) and get outside about 20 minutes before you plan to begin your observations, to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Move away from any outdoor lights that you can and if possible, use a lounge chair to avoid neck pain while looking at the sky.

Technically the Lyrids continue until April 30, but NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told that you should see the most meteors Wednesday into Thursday morning (April 21 to April 22). "Get up early before dawn, after the moon has set. You have a pretty good chance of seeing some Lyrids this year," Cooke said. 

That said, NASA warns that the window of ideal viewing time Thursday is very short — probably only about half an hour before the sky brightens just before 5 a.m. local.

Cooke predicted skywatchers will see roughly 18 meteors an hour — depending on how dark your sky is, so get away from light pollution where you can (and if it's safe to do so, given that many regions of the world are under pandemic quarantines right now.)

Related: How to see the best meteor showers of 2021 

This year's predicted quantity of visible meteors is well within the usual range of 15 to 20 meteors an hour. At times, Lyrid meteor showers can produce bursts of up to 100 meteors an hour, but Cooke said the forecast for this year is very unlikely in that regard. Past prominent meteor showers were in 1803, 1922 (96 per hour) and in 1982 (80 per hour); 1803's event was particularly spectacular as the townspeople of Richmond, Virginia left their beds to see a shower that appeared to come from all parts of the sky.

Any meteors you can see this year will likely stand out. Skywatching columnist Joe Rao says the meteors are bright and swift, moving through the atmosphere at average speeds of 30 miles (48 kilometers) per second. Roughly a quarter of the individual meteors will leave big trains across the sky, perhaps as many as five to 10 such meteors during a night of excellent conditions around the peak shower date.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: