Lyrid meteor shower 2023: When, where & how to see it
The Lyrid meteor shower occurs between April 16-25 every year and will peak on the night of April 22, 2023. Viewing opportunities are favorable for the 2023 Lyrids for the waxing crescent moon will be just 6% illuminated on the night of the peak.
Lyrid meteor shower
When: 16 to 25 April
Peak: April 22
Comet of origin: C/1861 G1 Thatcher (Comet Thatcher)
Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR): 18
(The number of meteors a single observer would see in an hour of peak activity with a clear, dark sky and the radiant at the zenith).
NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com. As with most meteor showers, the peak viewing time will be before dawn, but the Lyrids will become visible beginning at about 10:30 p.m. local time.
The shower is known for its luminous dust trains which can be observed for several seconds according to NASA (opens in new tab). The Lyrids are associated with Comet Thatcher, a long-period comet that orbits the sun every 415.5 years (opens in new tab), it last reached its closest approach to the sun in 1861.
The average Lyrid shower produces 15 to 20 meteors per hour.
Some years, the Lyrid meteor shower intensifies and can produce up to 100 meteors per hour in what’s called an “outburst,” but it is difficult to predict exactly when that will happen.
“People say there is some periodicity there,” Cooke said, “but the data doesn’t support that.” Although there is an average of 30 years between these outbursts, that’s only an average; the actual number of years between the events varies, Cooke said.
The radiant of the Lyrid meteor shower is located near the Hercules-Lyra border. (Image credit: Future) (opens in new tab)
The radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to originate — will be high in the evening sky in the constellation Lyra to the northeast of Vega, one of the brightest stars visible in the night sky this time of year. Don’t look directly toward the radiant, though, because you might miss the meteors with the longest tails.
The Lyrid meteor shower is of medium brightness, but not as luminous as the famous Perseid meteor shower in August, which tends to produce more prominent trails, Cooke said.
What causes the Lyrid meteor shower?
Lyrid meteors are little pieces of Comet Thatcher, a long-period comet that was discovered by amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth crosses the path of a comet, colliding with a trail of comet crumbs. That’s why they happen around the same time every year and appear to originate from specific points in the sky. As they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, the meteors leave bright streaks in the sky commonly referred to as “shooting stars.”
Lyrid meteors come in fast — though not as fast as the Leonids, which peak in November, Cooke said. “The Leonids hit us head-on,” he said. “The Lyrids are more like hitting the left front fender.”
How to see the Lyrid meteor shower
The Lyrids are one of the oldest recorded showers, Cooke said, with observations going back to 687 B.C. You don’t need any kind of special equipment to see the meteors; just look up at the dark sky, be patient and enjoy the show.
To best see the Lyrid meteor shower, go to the darkest possible location, lean back and relax. You don’t need any equipment like telescopes or binoculars as the secret is to take in as much sky as possible and allow about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
If you want more advice on how to photograph the Lyrids, check out our how to photograph meteors and meteor showers guide and if you need imaging gear, consider our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
A Lyrid meteor crosses the Milky Way galaxy in this photo taken by Tina Pappas Lee on Fripp Island, South Carolina. The photo was taken at approximately 4:45 a.m. local time on April 22, 2020. (Image credit: Courtesy of Tina Pappas Lee) (opens in new tab)
The Lyrids have been chronicled in many cultures over the past 2,700 years. Chinese astronomers noted prominent displays in 687 B.C. and 15 B.C. Also, in 1136, a report from Korea chronicled the shower with the words “many stars flew from the northeast,” according to Space.com’s skywatching columnist Joe Rao.
In 1803, residents of Richmond, Virginia, went outside late at night after a fire alarm. A report from that time noted that the meteors resembled rockets in the sky.
“Shooting stars. This electrical [sic] phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From 1 until 3 in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets,” wrote a journalist at the time, in an account republished on Space Weather (opens in new tab).
NASA stated that similarly, impressive shower sightings took place in 1922 in Greece, 1945 in Japan, and 1982 in the United States.
Editor’s note: If you snap a great photo Lyrid meteor shower that you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and observing location to [email protected] (opens in new tab).
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Explore the Lyrids in more detail with NASA Science (opens in new tab). Read more about the Lyra constellation with this article from In-The-Sky.org (opens in new tab). Learn about Comet Thatcher – the source of the Lyrids – with this NASA Science article.
NASA. C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). NASA. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/comets/c-1861-g1-thatcher/in-depth/ (opens in new tab)
NASA. Lyrids: In depth. NASA. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/meteors-and-meteorites/lyrids/in-depth/ (opens in new tab)
Spaceweather.com. The Lyrid Meteor Shower. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.spaceweather.com/meteors/lyrids/lyrids.html (opens in new tab)