Article image

Stargazers delight: Lyrids meteor shower peaks on Earth Day

This weekend, the night skies will once again become a canvas for the Lyrid meteor shower. The Lyrids is an annual celestial event that has been mesmerizing stargazers for millennia. Anticipated at 09:06 Eastern Time on Saturday, up to 18 meteors per hour are expected to streak across the sky at the peak of the display.

Meteor showers, also known as shooting stars, occur when meteoroids – small fragments of debris in space – enter Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate, creating dazzling streaks of light. The Lyrid meteor shower derives its name from the constellation of Lyra. It appears to be the point of origin for the meteors. However, the meteors themselves have no connection to the stars in this constellation.

In reality, the Lyrid meteors are remnants of cosmic debris from the Thatcher Comet, shedding material along its orbital path. Although its debris trail is visible from our planet, the comet itself is quite distant. Thatcher completes an orbit around the sun only once every 415 years.

Lyrid meteor shower seen from Earth's orbit
Lyrid meteor shower seen from Earth’s orbit

The meteoroids responsible for the Lyrid shower are relatively small – no larger than pebbles – but as they plummet through the atmosphere at speeds of approximately 110,000 miles per hour (180,000 kilometers per hour), they compress the air ahead of them. This compression causes the air to heat up to temperatures of around 2,900°F (1,600°C) and glow. This creates stunning streaks we observe from the ground.

Although not the brightest meteor shower, humans have recorded the Lyrids as one of the oldest. The Perseids and Geminids outshine them in this regard. Chinese astronomers first documented the Lyrids in 687 BC.

Best way to view the Lyrid meteor shower

The shower is visible from any location on Earth, with the Northern Hemisphere offering the best views, particularly in rural areas far from city lights. To fully appreciate the Lyrids, it is crucial to find a dark site with an unobstructed view of the sky. 

The number of meteors visible will vary depending on factors such as the time of night and the level of background light, with brighter skies making fainter meteors more difficult to spot. This year, however, the Lyrids will peak shortly after a new moon, creating favorable viewing conditions.

To find the radiant, or the point in the sky where the meteors become visible, locate the brightest star in the Lyra constellation. The radiant will rise in the east just after midnight, and as the night progresses, more meteors will be visible above the horizon. The meteors will appear as sideways streaks in the sky, as Earth moves through Comet Thatcher’s debris field during its orbit around the sun.

For those who miss the Lyrids, another opportunity to witness a meteor shower arrives on May 6 with the peak of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower. This event can produce up to 50 shooting stars per hour, traveling at speeds of about 148,000 mph (240,000 kph) through Earth’s atmosphere. Named after the constellation Aquarius, the Eta Aquariids originate from debris left by Halley’s Comet.

In July, stargazers can look forward to the first supermoon of 2023, when Earth’s natural satellite appears larger and brighter than on any other night. Supermoons occur because the moon’s orbit around Earth is elliptical rather than circular, causing it to periodically appear closer and more luminous.

More about the Lyrid meteor shower

People have known the Lyrid meteor shower to be one of the oldest meteor showers. Records of the Lyrids date back over 2,500 years. Here are some additional facts about the Lyrids:

Parent comet

Debris from Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher produces the Lyrid meteor shower. A. E. Thatcher discovered the comet in 1861. This periodic comet has an orbital period of approximately 415 years.

Annual event

The Lyrid meteor shower occurs annually, usually between April 16 and April 25, with the peak typically around April 22.

Variable meteor rates

The number of meteors visible during the Lyrids can vary widely, from around 10 to 20 meteors per hour in most years to as many as 100 per hour during rare outbursts. The last significant outburst was in 1982, when the meteor rate reached nearly 100 per hour.

Speed and brightness

Lyrid meteors travel at a speed of about 110,000 mph (177,000 kph). People consider them to be medium-fast and moderately bright. While not as spectacular as the Perseids or Geminids, the Lyrids can still offer a dazzling display, especially during years with little moonlight interference.

Ionized gas trains

Some Lyrid meteors can leave behind glowing trails of ionized gas that can persist for a few seconds to minutes. These trails, called meteor trains, can sometimes be visible even after the meteor itself has disappeared.

Best viewing conditions

For maximizing the chances of seeing the Lyrid meteor shower, experts recommend finding a dark location away from city lights. Give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Lie down or recline to get as much of the sky in your field of view as possible. While the Lyrids can be seen from both hemispheres, the Northern Hemisphere generally offers better viewing conditions.

The radiant

The meteors appear to radiate from a point in the sky near the constellation Lyra, close to the bright star Vega. Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, tracing their paths back will lead to this radiant point.

Meteor composition

Lyrid meteors are composed of dust and ice particles from Comet Thatcher. As these particles enter Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up due to friction, creating the bright streaks of light we see from the ground.

The Lyrid meteor shower is a fascinating celestial event that offers stargazers an opportunity to witness the beauty of our universe. As with any meteor shower, the best way to enjoy the Lyrids is to be patient, dress warmly, and let the night sky unfold its wonders before your eyes.

More about meteor showers

Meteor showers are celestial events during which numerous meteors or “shooting stars” streak across the night sky. These events occur when Earth passes through the debris left behind by comets or, in some cases, asteroids. Here’s what you need to know about meteor showers:

Meteoroid, meteor, and meteorite

A meteoroid is a small rocky or metallic object in space, typically originating from comets or asteroids. When a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere and burns up due to friction, it creates a meteor, which appears as a bright streak of light in the sky. If a meteoroid survives its journey through the atmosphere and lands on Earth’s surface, it is called a meteorite.

Parent bodies

Most meteor showers are caused by debris left behind by comets. As comets approach the sun, they release dust and ice particles that form a trail along their orbit. Occasionally, meteor showers are linked to asteroid debris, such as the Geminids, which are associated with the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.


Meteor showers appear to originate from a specific point in the sky, called the radiant. The radiant is typically associated with a particular constellation, which lends its name to the meteor shower. For example, the Perseids appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus.

Annual events

Meteor showers typically occur annually when Earth passes through the debris field of a particular comet or asteroid. Some well-known annual meteor showers include the Perseids (mid-August), Geminids (mid-December), Lyrids (late April), and Orionids (mid-October).

Meteor rates

The number of meteors visible during a shower varies depending on the density of the debris field and the viewing conditions. Meteor rates can range from a few meteors per hour in minor showers to over 100 per hour in exceptional showers like the Perseids or Geminids.

Peak activity

Meteor showers usually have a peak period when the meteor rate is highest. This peak can last for a few hours or several days, depending on the shower.

Viewing conditions

To get the best view of a meteor shower, it is important to find a dark location away from city lights with an unobstructed view of the sky. The presence of the moon can also affect visibility, with a full moon washing out fainter meteors. The best time to watch a meteor shower is typically after midnight and before dawn.

Meteor speed and brightness

Meteors can travel at varying speeds, from 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) to over 160,000 mph (260,000 kph), depending on their composition and the shower. The brightness of a meteor depends on factors such as its size, composition, and the speed at which it enters the atmosphere.

Meteor shower outbursts and storms

Occasionally, meteor showers can produce unusually high meteor rates called outbursts or, in extreme cases, meteor storms. These events are often caused by gravitational perturbations that push denser debris streams into Earth’s path.

Meteor showers offer a captivating display of nature’s fireworks and a glimpse into the remnants of our solar system’s formation. Observing meteor showers can be a memorable experience, both for casual stargazers and seasoned astronomers alike.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day