The Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks on Earth Day

On Earth Day — Sunday, April 21 — the Lyrid meteor shower will peak over the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re interested in the celestial show, you’ll likely see meteors zooming across the heavens for a few minutes. Every 415 years, the comet Thatcher circles the sun in a highly eccentric orbit shaped almost like a cat’s eye. At its farthest from the sun, it is billions of miles from Pluto, while at its nearest, it swings between Earth and Mars. The last time it was near Earth was in 1861, and it won’t be that close again until 2280. The closer it gets to the sun, the more debris it sheds. That debris is what you’re seeing when you see a meteor shower: dust-sized particles slamming into Earth’s atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. In a competition between the two, Earth is going to win, and “shooting stars” are the result of energy released as the particles are vaporized. You can expect to see 20 meteors per hour during a Lyrid event. For your best shot at witnessing the Lyrids, you’re going to need to get away from local light pollution and find truly dark skies. You should completely avoid smartphones, flashlights, car headlights, or dome lights. The goal is to let your eyes adjust totally to the darkness. Once you find your viewing area, just lay out your blanket, get comfy, look up, and wait. In an hour, you’ll be able to see the night sky with surprising clarity. Where is the nearest dark sky to where you live? You can find out on the Dark Site Finder map. If you miss the show this April, don’t panic — the Lyrid meteor shower will be back next year, and the year after, and so on.