Get ready for spring's first display of shooting stars.
Advertisement
A meteor of the lyrids in the sky is seen on April 22, 2020 in Schermbeck, Germany.
Credit: Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Stargazers will want to look up on Thursday night into Friday morning to witness the first meteor shower of the season above the northern hemisphere.

Will we see shooting stars? In clear skies it's likely, though this specific star show — the Lyrids meteor shower — is not the year's most prolific.

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the meteor shower from its history to optimal viewing times.

What Is the Lyrids Meteor Shower?

Lyrid
Credit: Kevin Key/ Slworking/Getty Images

The Lyrids meteor shower dazzles the skies with shooting stars that appear to come from the same area where the constellation of Lyra is. It's a very small, lesser-known constellation, but its main star — Vega — is one of the brightest in the night sky, the American Meteor Society (AMS) noted. However, meteors don't come from the stars, but from comets.

The Lyrids are caused by Comet Thatcher (1861 I), which was last seen in the inner Solar System in 1861 and won't be back until 2283, according to EarthSky.com. Shooting stars occur when those particles smash into Earth's atmosphere, charging up and glowing as they release their energy. Although they can appear to be really bright, shooting stars are often no larger than a grain of sand.

Generally, meteor showers occur when our planet busts through clouds of dust and debris left in the inner Solar System by passing comets. That's why they happen on more-or-less the same dates each year.

The Best Time to Watch the Lyrids Meteor Shower

Any time after dark on Thursday is a great time to get outside if the skies are clear. A bright moon can play havoc with the visibility of shooting stars, but it just so happens that the moon will be at last quarter and won't rise until the following morning," according to EarthSky.com. That should leave inky-black country skies, though even if you're in a city you should be able to see the brighter shooting stars.

If it's cloudy on the peak night don't despair because the Lyrids meteor shower runs until April 30.

According to AMS, the best time for viewing is 11 p.m. on Thursday into 2 a.m. on Friday.

How to See Shooting Stars

Lyrid
Credit: Adventure_Photo/Getty Images

Be patient and tuck away your smartphone. Any backyard or street lights should be off as well, NASA noted. (Don't be shy, ask your neighbors to turn off their lights as well if needed.) Shooting stars can appear anywhere in the sky, though generally there's going to be more activity about halfway up the eastern sky as darkness falls.

You can expect to see about 20 shooting stars per hour during the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower.

When Is the Next Meteor Shower?

The next meteor shower is the Eta Aquarids, which peak on May 6 and are caused by the famous Halley's Comet.