By Eric Mack / cnet.com
After a long break, meteor season is back this month with the annual peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. The first three months of most years represent a relative dry spell for night sky watchers as there’s typically not much happening between the Quadrantid meteor shower in early January and the Lyrids. They signal a welcome return of the chance to venture out in the evening amid mild temperatures.
The Lyrids are set to become active in 2021 around April 15, according to the American Meteor Society, and they will peak on the evening of April 21 into the early morning hours of April 22. If you can’t get out that night or the weather doesn’t cooperate where you are, one night before or after the peak is also expected to present a pretty good viewing opportunity as well.
The Lyrids don’t produce a whole lot of meteors, perhaps 10 to 15 per hour, but are more likely to include bright, dramatic fireballs than other major showers. Every few decades we get an outburst during the Lyrids that boosts the rate up to about 100 per hour. That’s not predicted to happen in 2021, but such things are also notoriously hard to predict.
The source of the Lyrids is the debris cloud left behind by a comet named C/1861 G1 Thatcher that was last seen in the 19th century and won’t pass through the inner solar system again for more than two centuries. Each year, though, our planet drifts through the dust cloud it left behind on previous visits. Little space pebbles and other bits of dust and debris collide with our atmosphere and burn up high above us, producing those fleeting little light shows so many are willing to stay up late or wake up early to catch.
This year, with a moon that will be more than two-thirds full at the peak of the Lyrids, it’s probably best to try and see the show before dawn and after the moon has set at your location.