Thursday night through Friday morning will be one of the special dates scattered throughout the year when skywatchers can catch a meteor shower as a host of potential eruptions erupt in the dark.
Meteor showers occur when our planet collides with the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids orbiting the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, resulting in fiery streaks of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that a given meteor shower occurs around the same time every year.
One of the first major spring meteor showers is the Lyrids. They have been active since April 15 and go until April 29, but they will peak from April 21 to 22, which is Thursday evening and early Friday morning.
The meteors come from a comet called C/1861 G1, also known as Thatcher. This is an early morning shower, best seen in the early hours before dawn in the Northern Hemisphere, although some activity is visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
It will peak when the moon is two-thirds full, which could limit visibility. If you can’t get a good show overnight, the Lyrid shower should be much stronger in 2023, when the moon is a tiny crescent, allowing up to 18 meteors to be seen per hour.
And there are more meteor showers to come. Check out The Times’ list of major showers predicted for 2022, or sync our curated collection of major space and astronomical events with your personal digital calendar.
How to see a shower
The best practice is to go to the countryside and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas may have the luxury of just going outside. But city dwellers also have options.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they are,” said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are usually best seen when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. In order to see as many meteors as possible, wait 30-45 minutes after arriving at your viewing location. This will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then, lie back and admire a large part of the night sky. Clear nights, higher elevations, and times when the moon is thin or absent are best. Mr Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes are not necessary for meteor showers and will actually limit your view.