I’ve always liked the “April showers” synergy between the annual Lyrid meteors and the rain that encourages the return of familiar spring wildflowers.
It’s been three months since January’s Quadrantids, the last major meteor shower, so I think we’re primed for a show. If clear sky prevails Saturday morning (April 22nd), we might expect to see between 10–20 meteors per hour under dark, moonless skies.
The radiant is located in eastern Hercules near the border with Lyra, well up in the eastern sky by local midnight. Best viewing should occur between between 2 a.m. and dawn Saturday when Hercules rides high in the south. Expect little lunar interference — the waning crescent won’t rise until shortly before the start of morning twilight.
Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society predicts this year’s shower will peak around 17 UT on April 22nd. Since that’s 1 p.m. EDT / 10 a.m. PDT, North American observers will see it best in the hour or two before dawn Saturday. For many of us, that’s somewhere between 3 and 5 a.m. Just check your local sunrise time and dial it back about three hours to arrive at the best viewing hour.
You can also watch the shower on the mornings either side of maximum, though rates will be reduced. Like most meteor showers, the Lyrids originate from comet dust, in this instance, dust from Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which traces out a 415-year-long orbit around the Sun. Earth intersects the comet’s path in late April each year, and meteoric fireworks result.
As you ease back Saturday, enjoying a celestial take on April showers, know that you’re one of a long line of skywatchers who’s thrilled to the Lyrids since they were first recorded by Chinese astronomers more than 2,700 years ago.