The annual Lyrids meteor shower is nearly here, beginning roughly around April 16th and visible until around April 26th. The peak will be occurring on April 22, 2013 (night of the 22nd/morning of the 23rd). The Lyrids, which appear to originate in the portion of the sky that features the constellation Lyra, are usually are a good show, for those inclined to stay awake late enough to see them at their best. They average about 10-20 meteors an hour when seen from a dark rural area, but are known to occasionally feature large bursts of activity, with peaks sometimes as high as 100 meteors an hour. The 1803 Lyrids meteor shower featured such an event, peaking at rates of more than 700 meteors an hour, as seen from Richmond, Virginia. This year’s Lyrids are very unlikely to reach rates as high as that though.
Some of the other more prolific meteor showers of the year may reach such spectacular rates though. See: Meteor Showers 2013 Dates And Times, Perseids, Geminids, Leonids, Taurids, Draconids, Eta Aquariids, Orionids, Etc
Worth noting, is that the Lyrids also tend to create rather bright meteors, possessing very clear and visible trails. And they occasionally produce large fireballs as well, so that’s worth keeping an eye out for. Even those living in bright urban areas should be able to see any potential fireballs, they can be quite impressive.
To locate Lyra, and thus where to watch for the Lyrids, look into the Northeastern region of the sky and locate the very bright star Vega, which should be visible even in urban areas. That’s where the majority of the meteors will appear to be originating from. Vega is also known as the Harp Star.
This year the moon will be in a somewhat bright phase, so it’ll be best to wait until it sets early on the morning of April 23rd before heading out to watch for meteors. For those in the US, that will mean sometimes between 3:45AM and 4:30ish, the further north you are the later.
As with all meteor showers, for the best experience there are some things to keep in mind: Get as comfortable as you can. Some good reclining chairs, blankets and warm clothes, hot cocoa/coffee, these all go a long way towards making it more enjoyable. And getting as far away from city lights as you can, will allow you to see many more of the meteors and will make them appear brighter. You’ll also need to give yourself time to adjust to the dark, so make sure you turn off/or dim any bright electronics/phones that you have on you.
As an interesting closing note, the Lyrids have been observed by humans for at least the last 2600 years. And very likely longer than that, that’s simply the oldest written record of them being observed.