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The Lyrids meteor shower is peaking. Here's how to enjoy it with a bright moon

A Leonid fireball is shown during the storm of 1966 in the sky above Wrightwood, Calif.
NASA/Getty Images
A Leonid fireball is shown during the storm of 1966 in the sky above Wrightwood, Calif.

Stargazers can get ready to watch one of the oldest-known meteor showers soon — they'll just need to find some darkness from a nearly full moon.

The Lyrids meteor shower is active until April 29 and is predicted to peak overnight from Sunday into Monday, according to the American Meteor Society. It's best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere, the group says.

Views throughout the night will change as Lyra, the constellation from which the shower radiates and gets its name, moves through the sky. Lyra hangs high at dawn so that will be a better time to view, the AMS says.

The nearly full moon over the weekend will make it more difficult to see the meteor shower, but viewers can still see some, and it always helps to make the sky you're looking at as dark as possible. Astronomy website EarthSky advises avoiding city lights as you would in most stargazes, but it also suggests finding a place where the moon can be blocked from view, like in the shadows of a mountain or under trees.

Meteor watchers should prepare to stay warm and lie back. NASA recommends lying with your feet facing east, and allow 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Photography fans will need slower shutter speed, higher ISO and the stability of a tripod to capture the shooting stars.

While we are unlikely to see bright trains from the Lyrids' travel through the Earth's atmosphere, we can watch out for bright flashes called fireballs, according to NASA.

Fireballs are brighter than the planet Venus. NASA has set up over a dozen cameras across the country to record them. The agency says the data helps them better understand objects floating in space near the Earth and is important for spacecraft designers.

The first recorded sighting of the Lyrids came from Chinese people over 2,700 years ago. Meteor showers happen when the Earth passes through the trail of dust and debris that comets and asteroids leave behind when they come around the sun. The Lyrids come from the trail of comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered by amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher in 1861.

While the Earth passes through the comet's trail every year, it takes over 400 years for Comet Thatcher to orbit the sun. The last time it reached its closest point to the sun was in the year it was discovered.

The next meteor shower for the Earth is the Eta Aquariids that is better viewed from the southern tropics in early May, according to the AMS. The next one people in North America can see well is the Alpha Capricornids at the end of July. The moon will be darker then.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Huo Jingnan (she/her) is an assistant producer on NPR's investigations team.