The much-awaited April Lyrids, aka the Lyrid meteor shower, is set to grace skies across the planet from April 16 to April 26. The shower's peak and best viewing hours are expected to be between the evening of the coming Saturday, April 21, and dawn on Sunday, April 22, the latter of which happens to also be Earth Day.
The showers are named after their radiant - the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate - which is located in the constellation of Lyra and happens to be the constellation's brightest star, Alpha Lyrae. One of the strongest annual meteor showers, they have been observed for the past 2,600 years (first believed to be sighed in 687 BC) and counts typically range from 5 to 20 meteors per hour.
It is caused by the Earth's orbit coming into contact with the dust shed by the long-period Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered by A.E. Thatcher in 1861. To put it into more exact words, the bits left behind by the comet collide with our atmosphere at 110,000 mph, where they disintegrate to create colorful streaks in the sky. According to NASA, the comet takes roughly 415.5 years to orbit the Sun once.
The April Lyrids will be the first significant meteor shower since January and definitely a treat for the eyes, so to ensure the best possible viewing experience, here are some tips to help you view it best:
How can you view it the best?
As stated by AccuWeather's Astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel, the Lyrid meteor shower does not require any sort of astronomical expertise or equipment like telescopes or binoculars to make the best of it. Samuhel says that expectant viewers can glimpse it best after midnight when the radiant is the highest in the sky. Because light pollution can seriously hinder the view in the city, it's advisable to make a journey to either a rural area or a dark area where that will not be an issue.
But there is one form of light pollution that is quite unavoidable: the currently waxing moon. However, that can easily be circumvented by waiting for the moon to set at around midnight, meaning viewing conditions should be optimal during the overnight hours before dawn.
NASA advises that find an area well away from city or street lights and that you "come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing east and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors."
Where can you view it the best?
Cloudy conditions are expected across the central and northwestern U.S and will pose a problem to stargazers living in those regions, but if you're lucky enough to be living in either the northeastern or southwestern U.S, then this might be your lucky week.
But if you do live in the former zones, not all hope is lost. The above map by AccuWeather practically highlights the best viewing zones in the country. Residents of the east coast from Pennsylvania to Maine, as well as those of a chunk of the west coast which includes parts of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington, can reasonably expect to glimpse the shower at optimal conditions too.
While the shower favors those living in the northern hemisphere, those living in the southern hemisphere needn't be disheartened. According to the ABC, those in the latter category will have to wait until 'early hours of the morning before reasonable rates can be observed,' with Australian viewers keen on catching the best view advised to do so on Monday, April 23 between 2 am and 4 am local time.
What if you miss it?
If you do somehow end up missing the April Lyrids not to worry, because there are quite a few showers through the year: the Perseid shower (July - August), the Draconid shower (October), the Taurid shower (September - December), the Orionid shower (October - November) and the Geminid shower (December).
But if you're the impatient kind and do not want to wait so long, the Eta Aquarid meteor shower is expected to reach its peak on the night of May 6 into May 7. Caused by the Earth moving into the path of debris left behind by Halley's Comet, this shower favors the southern hemisphere, though those in the north should be able to view it as well.