This year, the Lyrid meteor shower will peak in the early, predawn hours of Earth Day (Thursday, April 22nd). This shower is the oldest recorded annual meteor shower and happens each April (usually the 16th to the 25th) when the earth passes through the dust trail of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. Records of this shower date back 2,700 years, to 687 BCE China, and the shower is named after the constellation Lyra, as the shower appears to radiate out of Vega (the brightest star in Lyra).
The shower is best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere, which gets 10-20 meteors an hour at the peak. To get the best view with the most meteors, you’ll need to be up during some of the darkest hours – between midnight and dawn and after the moon has set. Over the last 100 years, there were three heavier showers from this meteor shower with ~100 meteors an hour but an outburst isn’t predicted this year.
Despite the fact that an outburst isn’t predicted, this year’s Lyrid Meteor Shower is still supposed to include bright, dramatic fireballs. For those in the Pacific Northwest (particularly the Puget Sound area), the best time to see the shower will be around 4:30am or 5am on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021. If you live in a city, the shower will, unfortunately, be difficult to see because of light pollution.
If you’re not able to watch the night sky tonight/early tomorrow, the Lyrid Shower will still be going on for a few more days! Plus, there are other semi regular meteor showers all year round.
The constellation Lyra is named after the lyre, the ancient harp-like instrument. In this case, the lyre is belonged to Orpheus and said to have been the very first one ever made. Apollo gave Orpheus, a musician and poet, the lyre as a gift and the two were characters in many ancient Greek myths. When Orpheus was killed by followers of the god Dionysus, what happened to the lyre depends on the story. But eventually, the lyre ended up as a constellation in the sky, located next to Cygnus the Swan. This isn’t the only story of the constellation but it is the one associated with the names of the constellation and tonight’s meteor shower.
The night sky is an incredibly beautiful sight to behold and the stars been an important part of life for humans and some animals for millennia. Stars and constellations can be used for navigation by both humans and several animal species. Our ancestors also used constellations to plant and harvest agriculture. Looking up at the Lyrid Meteor Shower, even at such an early time, can be a reminder of this history and connection to the natural world.
The stars and meteor showers in our sky play a huge role in life here on earth. The bits of any meteoroid that manage to survive a trip through our atmosphere without being vaporized are called meteorites. These objects tell us so much about the universe. Stargazing and watching meteor showers are both great ways to reconnect with the natural world and with science.
Are you planning to watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower?