How, When And Where You Can See A ‘Fireball’ This Week As Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks


The winter skies are largely quiet of “shooting stars,” but not so spring. This week the Lyrid meteor shower begins, peaking on the night of Wednesday/Thursday, April 21/22, 2021, but you’ll need to go stand under a dark sky at some very specific times if you’re to maximize your chances.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Lyrid meteor shower in 2021:

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

It’s an annual, medium strength meteor shower caused by Earth busting through a trail of dust and debris left in the inner Solar System by a comet called C/1861 G1 Thatcher. It’s a long period comet that loops around the Sun every 415 years, and it’s not due back in the inner Solar System until the year 2283.

You can expect to see about 18 shooting stars per hour, each one traveling at 30 miles/48km per second, but the real attraction of this meteor shower isn’t the number of “shooting stars,” but their intensity—“fireballs.”

Defined as very bright meteors about the same brightness as Venus, the Lyrids are famous for producing fireballs. So it’s worth stepping outside during the peak to take a look.

Conditions won’t be perfect—the Moon will be 70% illuminated, thus bleaching the night sky somewhat—but even our satellite won’t drown-out any bright Lyrid fireballs that happen to smash into Earth’s upper atmosphere.

When is the Lyrid meteor shower?

After December’s Geminid meteor shower there’s a long gap to the Lyrids, which occur each year between April 16-30.

The peak night of activity is expected to be Wednesday/Thursday, April 21/22, 2021, but the Lyrids tend to produce good rates of shooting stars for about three nights. So it’s worth also looking skywards on Tuesday/Wednesday, April 20/21 and on Thursday/Friday, April 22/23, 2021.

How best to see the Lyrid meteor shower

The best views are from the northern hemisphere. The shower’s radiant is in the constellation of Lyra, which is centered on the bright star Vega. That’s rising in the northeast about 9 p.m. this week at mid-northern latitudes.

From midnight until around an hour before dawn is the darkest time of night when your chances of seeing shooting stars will be at the maximum.

So go out stargazing when it’s really dark—around midnight—and you might see one. Besides, the best chance of seeing “shooting stars” is in the hour before dawn, when the Moon will have set in the west. 

The conditions for this year’s Lyrid meteor shower are not perfect, but for anyone who wants to see fireballs in the night sky, if there are clear skies where you are it’s worth stepping out this week and doing some stargazing. You might get lucky.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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