Heads up, stargazers. The Lyrid meteor shower is here and it’s going to reach peak activity this Easter.
The Lyrid meteor shower takes place between April 16 and April 25, and will peak on the night of April 22.
Those in the Northern Hemisphere are best situated for glimpsing a few meteors, but the event should also be visible in the Southern Hemisphere between midnight and dawn. As with any meteor shower, you should find a dark area, far away from city lights, and stay outside for around 20 to 30 minutes to allow your eyes to become adjusted to the low light.
As far as meteor showers go, the Lyrids are not the most lively and dramatic. Visibility might also be hampered by moonlight, as April 23 will also see a bright gibbous Moon, which is very close to a full Moon.
That said, the Lyrid meteor shower is often visible to the naked eye and you can expect to see anything from five to 20 meteors per hour. Plus, given the time of year, many parts of the world should be enjoying relatively clear skies (with a bit of luck).
The Lyrids get their name from the fact they appear to radiate from the area of the sky near the constellation Lyra, whose brightest star is Vega, some 25 light-years away. However, don’t let that distract you as the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.
The meteors come from debris flying off the tail of comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher) at speeds of 49 kilometers (30 miles) per second. As these chunks of cosmic dust hit Earth’s atmosphere, they will burn up and leave a streaking tail.
People have been enjoying the Lyrids for at least 2,700 years. They were first written about by Zuo Qiuming, a Chinese writer and contemporary of Confucius, in 687 BCE who described "stars that fell like rain." So who knows, perhaps China's most influential philosopher was an admirer of the Lyrids too.
The Lyrids also play an important role in the astronomical traditions of an Aboriginal Australian group known as the Boorong clan. This clan no longer exists in its singular form and their traditions were only transferred through the ages orally, but we do know that to them, the Lyrids represented the scratchings of the malleefowl bird, represented by the star Vega, during its period of cosmic nest-building.