The Lyrids Light Up the April Sky

~3 min

One of the most noteworthy stargazing events this month is the Lyrid meteor shower that will be peaking soon. In today’s article, we’ll tell you more about this beautiful meteor stream and give some viewing tips that will help you to catch as many shooting stars as possible! To get a better stargazing experience, check with Star Walk 2: the app will help you to determine the stream's radiant in the sky and learn more about the brilliant stars and constellations surrounding it.

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

The Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers: it has been observed for 2700 years. The first recorded observation of these fast and bright meteors by the Chinese sky gazers goes back to 687 BC! The Lyrids are active from April 16 to 28 every year, peaking around April 22. Generally, this stream offers stargazers an opportunity to view from 10 to 20 meteors per hour around its peak. Flying at the velocity of 30 miles or 49 kilometers per second, the Lyrid meteors often leave persistent dust trains and can produce bright fireballs.

Although the Lyrid meteor shower is not as prolific as the famed August Perseids or the December Geminids, it can amaze observers with as many as 100 meteors per hour: such surges were observed in 1803, 1922, 1945, and 1982. It’s difficult to predict such outbursts, which are one of the reasons why the Lyrids are worth watching.

The Lyrids appear to come from the radiant point located in the constellation Lyra — hence the name for this stream. The radiant is situated rather close to Vega, one of the brightest stars in the entire night sky. However, you don’t have to look for the radiant point to enjoy the Lyrids: on the contrary, try to view the meteors away from the radiant — they will appear longer, and the show will be more breathtaking.

What causes the Lyrid meteor shower?

The constellation Lyra is not the source of the Lyrids; the radiant situated in the constellation only helps observers determine which shower they are watching on a particular night. The parent body of the Lyrid meteor shower is a long-period comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) discovered on April 5, 1861, by the amateur astronomer A. E. Thatcher. When our planet passes through the trail left by the comet, the pieces of dust and debris comprising it burn up in the terrestrial atmosphere, producing dazzling lights in the sky.

When can I see the Lyrid meteor shower in 2021?

Regardless of your location, the best viewing window occurs in the dark hours after moonset and before dawn. Generally, the observation window starts after the radiant rises and is best seen when the radiant is highest in the sky. The stream is best observable from the Northern Hemisphere, where the radiant is high in the sky at dawn. The stargazers from the Southern part of our planet will see fewer Lyrid meteors as the radiant will rise in the hours before dawn and will be lower on the skydome for them when dawn breaks.

To catch more meteors, find a place far from light pollution; prepare a blanket, a deckchair, and a thermos with hot coffee or tea to keep you warm. You don’t need any special equipment to see the meteors — your eyes will adapt to the darkness after about 30 minutes in the dark, becoming an excellent observational tool.

The π-Puppid meteor shower

For those located in the Southern Hemisphere, there is another meteor shower to see in April — the π-Puppids. Although this stream is much weaker than the Lyrids, it still provides the stargazers with an opportunity to see meteors in the sky. The π-Puppids are active from April 15 to 28, peaking around April 23. The radiant of this stream is located in the southern constellation Puppis.

Enjoy the beautiful meteors, take photos of them, and don’t forget to share them with us on social media. Wishing you clear skies and happy stargazing!