Thursday night through Friday morning will be one of the special dates spread throughout each year when sky watchers can watch a meteor shower as a multitude of flares potentially erupt in the dark.
Meteor showers occur when our planet collides with the debris field left by icy comets or rocky asteroids orbiting the sun. These tiny particles burn up in the atmosphere, giving rise to dazzling trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any meteor shower occurs at roughly the same time each year.
One of the first big meteor showers of spring is the Lyrids. They have been active since April 15 and go until the 29th, but will peak on April 21-22, or Thursday night and early Friday morning.
The meteors originate from a comet called C/1861 G1, also known as Thatcher. It is a morning shower, best seen in the early hours before sunrise in the northern hemisphere, although some activity will be seen in the southern hemisphere.
It will peak when the moon is two-thirds full, which could limit visibility. If it fails to put on a good show overnight, the Lyrid meteor shower is forecast to be much stronger in 2023, when the moon will be a small crescent, allowing up to 18 meteors to be seen per hour.
And there are more meteor showers to come. Visit The Times list of the major showers expected in 2022, or sync our curated collection of major space and astronomical events with your personal digital calendar.
How to see a shower
Best practice is to get out in the field and get as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas can afford to just go out. 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 located,” said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are often best seen when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. 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 sit back and enjoy a wide swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes, 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.