The first three months of most years represent a relatively dry period for nocturnal sky enthusiasts, as not much is usually happening between theearly January and the Lyrids. They signal a welcome return of the chance to get out and about in the evening in mild temperatures.
The Lyrids will become active around April 15 in 2021, according to the American Meteor Society, and will peak on the evening of April 21 until the early morning hours of April 22. the weather does not cooperate where you are, a night before or after the peak is also expected to provide a pretty good viewing opportunity.
The Lyrids don’t produce very many meteors, maybe 10 to 15 an hour, but are more likely to contain bright, dramatic fireballs than other large showers. Every few decades we get an eruption during the Lyrids that speeds up to about 100 per hour. That’s not predicted in 2021, but things like that are also notoriously difficult 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 will not pass through the inner solar system for over two centuries. However, every year our planet drifts through the cloud of dust it has left behind on previous visits. Tiny pebbles in space and other bits of dust and debris collide with our atmosphere and burn up high above us, producing those fleeting little light shows that so many are willing to stay up late or wake up early to catch.
This year, with a moon more than two-thirds full at the top of the Lyrids, it’s probably best to see the show before sunrise and after the moon has set at your location.
Perseid meteor shower photos from 2020 shine brightly in a dark year
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But this does not mean that viewing at night will necessarily be fruitless. The hours after sunset can be a good chance to catch a bright “Earth Grazer” along the horizon.
When looking for Lyrids, get as far away from light pollution as possible and find a place such as an open field or hilltop with a wide, unobstructed view of the night sky. Lie down, let your eyes adjust, relax and just watch.
There is no need to look at any part of the sky, but the Lyrids will appear to emerge from their eponymous constellation Lyra, as they travel away from that part of the sky like spokes on a wheel. So if you can find and get your bearings of Lyra, that’s great, but definitely not required.
Stay warm, stay safe and enjoy the space show! If you amateur astrophotographers happen to catch some awesome Lyrid fireballs, share them with me on Twitter @EricCMack.
To follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with the latest space travel news this year. You can even add it to your own Google calendar.