WASHINGTON, April 21, 2014 — Watch the skies tonight, just before sunrise, to get a glimpse of the Lyrids meteor shower. Although the shower will start around 3am EST, a bright waxing gibbous moon will make the shower difficult to see until the moon sets, just before sunrise.
Scientists describe the shower as “modest,” with only about 12-24 meteors per hour. However, more than 100 an hour have been reported.
The shower takes place every April, and will reach its apex tonight.
To increase your chances of seeing the meteor shower, try to get away from city lights and light pollution.
Meteor showers are named for the constellation near where the shower takes place. Lyrids is named for its proximity to the constellation Lyra, the Harp. The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha Lyrae, also called Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky. It is located in the northern sky and can be seen at latitudes between +90° and -40°.
Like most meteor showers, Lyrids is caused by a comet. As comets orbit the Sun, they shed dusty debris along its path. The source of Lyrids is particles of dust from Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. If Earth transits this stream, a meteor shower is visible.
Meteor showers are comprised of streaks of light across the sky, often called “shooting stars.” They are not actually stars, however, but are made up of rock and debris, called meteoroids. They catch on fire due to friction with Earth’s atmosphere, creating the bright lights across the sky. Debris that survives this intense process and fall to the ground are called meteorites.
If you miss the show tonight, you can still see the shower through April 24, although tonight and tomorrow provide the best viewing.