Each year, Earth passes through leftover ice and dust from the C/1861 Thatcher comet, resulting in the Lyrid meteor shower. It happens every April and this time, the meteor shower will peak around midnight on Wednesday, April 22 toward the early hours of the next day.
As with many other skywatching events, visibility will be dictated by atmospheric and astronomic conditions. The moon will be waxing crescent during the event, creating excellent dark sky conditions.
Experts predict that it will be possible to see up to 20 meteors per hour shooting across the sky. Those without equipment needn't fret because viewing the event won't require telescopes or binoculars. Just make sure to find a seat facing the darkest night sky and wait for the meteor shower to begin.
Europe will enjoy the best view of the Lyrids this year, but the astronomical event will be visible to observers all over the world. Those who won't be able to watch it outdoors can still catch the event online, thanks the Slooh Community Observatory, which will be running a live show on April 22 from the Canary Islands, starting at 8:00 EDT.
The Lyrids have been documented for centuries, as Comet C/1861 Thatcher returns to Earth every 415 years. Due to planetary gravitational influences, the number of meteors have been observed to spike every 60 years or so. About 90 meteors per hour were recorded in 1922 and 1982, which is paltry compared to the 700 meteors per hour documented in 1803.
When Chinese stargazers observed the Lyrids in 687 B.C., the earliest record of the meteor shower, they described the phenomenon as stars dropping down like rain at midnight.
"Meteors from the Lyrids appear to trace their paths back to a radiant about 10º southwest of bright blue-white Vega, a star which northern stargazers can see rising in the northeast by 10 p.m. in mid April," reads the Slooh page for the meteor shower.
The radiant lies in what is called the Hercules constellation today, but the meteor shower was given a name before boundaries between constellations were established in the early parts of the 20th century.
For those interested in observing the meteor shower live, keep in mind that the Lyrids can come from anywhere in the sky, so there is no need to look toward the radiant.
Photo: Phillip Chee | Flickr