How can I best view the Lyrids meteor shower?
The Lyrids are the second major meteor shower of the year, but it is not one of the strongest. This annual Spring shower is recognized as an irregular shower, with rates that vary depending on the year. Like all meteor showers, the Lyrids are caused by the Earth passing through the dust particles of a comet. In Lyrids case, this comet is Thatcher (C/1861 G1).
Due to the complete lack of significant meteor shower activity from mid-January to Mid-April, the Lyrids meteor shower is often a pleasurable, if not relaxing experience for observers longing for a show in the night sky after three and a half months of waiting.
The 2013 Lyrids are active from April 16th through April 25th and reaches its peak, the moment when the most meteors can be seen, on April 22nd. The peak is defined as the moment of maximum activity, and this number is expected to range from 10 to 20 Lyrid per hour if conditions are ideal.
Unfortunately, for observers eager to for a dark sky this year, the Waxing Gibbous moon will likely wash away all but the brightest meteors, thus creating a fair viewing experience due to the natural light present during the shower. Enthusiastic star gazers willing to wait it out under the night sky for several hours may be lucky enough to catch several Lyrids.
The radiant of the Lyrids, also known as the point from where the meteors appear to come from, is situated within the constellation Lyra. Not coincidentally, the Lyrids are named after this constellation. To find the location of the radiant, we recommend you find Vega, a hard-to-miss star identified as the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and one of the brightest stars in Earth’s night sky (it’s the fifth brightest in the night sky and the second brightest star in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere).
On average, and under clear skies, observers should see 10 to 20 meteors per hour but very rarely these rates can exceed up to 100 meteors per hours due to extremely rare outbursts. In the best conditions, the Lyrids meteor shower will put on a slow show for those willing to stay out and watch.
How do I know the sky is dark enough to see meteors?
If you happen to live near a brightly lit city, if possible, we recommend that you drive away from the glow of city light. After you’ve escaped the glow of the city, find a dark, safe, and possibly isolated spot where oncoming vehicle headlights will not occasionally ruin your sensitive night vision.
Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Once you have settled down at your observation spot, face toward the north-northeastern portion of the heavens. This way you can have the Lyrids’ radiant within your field of view. If you can see each star of the Little Dipper, your eyes have "dark adapted," and your chosen site is probably dark enough.
Since viewing conditions for the Lyrids will be ideal this year, you will have a greater opportunity to see more Lyrids than observed during the prior year. We suggest that you dress warmly, bring a chair that reclines, or lay down on a bulky blanket. Look a bit toward the north and enjoy the celestial show!