The Lyrid meteor shower will be peaking this year on April 22, 2013. The annual meteor shower typically puts on a good show, averaging about 10-20 meteors an hour, but sometimes featuring “surges” of activity that peak as high as 100 meteors an hour. The Lyrids also tend to produce rather bright meteors with long highly visible trails. All in all it’s worth getting out to see them if you can make the time.
The meteors will appear to be generally originating from the Northeastern portion of the sky, in the constellation Lyra. This year, the moon (waxing gibbous at the time) will be setting rather late, so it’ll be best to watch for them then. They tend to peak towards the early morning hours anyways, so it works out well. For those in the US, that’ll be sometime between 3:45AM and 4:30ish, the further north the later. But even if that’s too late or you, you should still be able to catch some of the meteors earlier in the night, though the Moon’s light may obscure them somewhat. And of course the rest of the year features a great many spectacular meteor showers, see: Meteor Showers 2013 Dates And Times
The Lyrids occasionally produce fireballs so that is also something to watch out for. And on occasion, in the somewhat recent past, they have put on truly incredible shows, as a result of the Earth passing through a particularly dense patch of dust. During the 1803 meteor shower, the Lyrids peaked at more than 700 meteors an hour as seen from Richmond, Virginia. Huge bursts of activity like the 1803 shower are referred to as meteor storms.
For those that are planning to watch this years Lyrid meteor shower here are some basic tips: Get comfortable. A nice reclining chair, some warm clothes and blankets, and some hot cocoa or coffee, go a long way towards making the experience enjoyable. The further away from city lights that you can get, the better. And you’ll need to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark in order to see the meteors easily and in high numbers, so keep your bright mobile devices turned off or with the screen dimmed really low.
For those interested in knowing what exactly meteor showers are, here’s Wikipedia with more:
“A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet. Comets can produce debris by water vapor drag, as demonstrated by Fred Whipple in 1951, and by breakup. Whipple envisioned comets as ‘dirty snowballs,’ made up of rock embedded in ice, orbiting the Sun. The ‘ice’ may be water, methane, ammonia, or other volatiles, alone or in combination. The ‘rock’ may vary in size from that of a dust mote to that of a small boulder. Dust mote sized solids are orders of magnitude more common than those the size of sand grains, which, in turn, are similarly more common than those the size of pebbles, and so on. When the ice warms and sublimates, the vapor can drag along dust, sand, and pebbles.”
“Each time a comet swings by the Sun in its orbit, some of its ice vaporizes and a certain amount of meteoroids will be shed. The meteoroids spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid stream, also known as a ‘dust trail’ (as opposed to a comet’s ‘dust tail’ caused by the very small particles that are quickly blown away by solar radiation pressure).”
Comet ISON, predicted to be the “comet of the century” later this year, is also likely to cause a meteor shower when we pass through its debris trail sometime in mid-January .
The Lyrids themselves are theorized to have originated from comet Thatcher, a comet which follows a 416-year orbit almost perpendicular to the plane of the solar system.