Lyrid meteors will light up the night

The annual shower peaks under good conditions in the early morning hours of April 23.
By | Published: April 15, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The April 23 morning sky features many shooting stars as the best meteor shower of 2015's first half reaches its peak.
The April 23 morning sky features many shooting stars as the best meteor shower of 2015’s first half reaches its peak.
Astronomy: Roen Kelly
The peak of the first good meteor shower of the year will begin the night of April 22 and continue through the dark morning hours of the 23rd. The waxing crescent Moon sets around midnight local daylight time, which leaves the prime viewing hours before dawn Moon-free for the annual Lyrid meteor shower.

Most meteor showers occur as Earth runs into streams of particles shed by comets. The particles enter our atmosphere, burn up due to friction, and produce an incandescent column of light. The parent comet of the Lyrid shower is Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which orbits the Sun every 415 years. This year, the Lyrid meteor shower will be active from April 16 through the 25th with the peak occurring in the hours before dawn April 23.

Astronomers evaluate meteor shower strengths by their hourly rates. The Lyrids typically deliver between 15 and 20 meteors per hour at their peak for observers at dark sites, which generally means 30 miles (50 kilometers) from city lights. This year could be better than average, however. Some meteor scientists predict enhanced rates in 2015, so it could pay dividends to be watching before dawn April 23.

The shower’s radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to emanate — lies in the constellation Lyra near that group’s brightest star, Vega (Alpha [α] Lyrae). The radiant passes nearly overhead just before dawn.

Senior Editor Michael Bakich explains how best to view an meteor shower.

In this video, Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich gives tips on spending a comfortable and fruitful night while meteor-watching. Click on the image to go to the video.

“Don’t stare at the radiant,” advises Astronomy Senior Editor Richard Talcott. “You’ll get your best results, and by that I mean the largest meteor counts, by looking roughly a third of the way across the sky from the radiant.”

Viewers need no special equipment or optics. In fact, the eyes alone work best because they offer the largest possible field of view. A reclining lawn chair will help with comfort, as will a blanket and a warm (non-alcoholic) beverage.

Interesting facts about meteors

  • To be visible, a meteor must be within about 120 miles (200 kilometers) of an observer.
  • Meteors become visible at an average height of 55 miles (90km). Nearly all burn up before they reach an altitude of 50 miles (80km).
  • The typical bright meteor is produced by a particle with a mass less than 1 gram with a size no larger than a pea.
  • The hourly rate on a “non-shower” night is approximately six meteors per hour.
  • A meteoroid enters the atmosphere at a velocity between 50,000 and 165,000 mph (81,000 and 265,000 km/h).
Expand your knowledge with these tools from Astronomy magazine