Out Of This World: The Lyrid Meteor Shower This Week

It’s spring! The warm air, green grass, and birdsong are all classic signs of the season’s change. For me, there’s one other marker to look out for: my friends start taking me up on opportunities to go stargazing! I could write another whole blog post about the delights of winter astronomy, with its exquisitely dark and clear nights, but one must also be pragmatic and admit that the act of standing around outside after sunset gets much more pleasant this time of year. And what better celestial delight to mark the transition than the Lyrid meteor shower? 

The Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers; we have records of observing them almost 3000 years ago! They, like many such showers, are debris from a passing comet. Every year the Earth’s orbit swings us through the debris cloud, and we can see small pieces alight as they burn up in the atmosphere. This also means that the showers can be seen originating from the same point (called a radiant) every time. This is how they are named! The radiant of the Lyrids is just beside the constellation Lyra, also known as the harp. It’s easy to spot, looking northeast to the bright star Vega at its head, or by using the iconic summer triangle with Altair and Deneb, or under the wing of the swan constellation, Cygnus.

Image credit: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/news-display.cfm?News_ID=912

Image credit: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/news-display.cfm?News_ID=912

Of course, finding the constellations isn’t essential! The most important things to know about a radiant are its rough direction (northeast), the time it rises (9 or 10 pm), and the actual days when it’s visible (April 15 to April 29, with a peak on April 21 or 22). Once you’ve found the right spot, you can watch and wait (meteors tend to make themselves pretty apparent). The Lyrids typically average 10-20 meteors an hour at peak, however, occasional bursts can see to 100! For the full experience, NASA recommends heading somewhere dark and comfortable, lying down with your feet facing East, and taking a good 30 minutes to let your eyes adjust. It’s certainly worth the wait, especially after the moon (but a small crescent!) sets around 11:30 PM.

If wondering about good local dark spots made you think of Wellesley Township, you are not alone! The KW Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada is hosting a (weather dependent) dark sky party at the Hackbart Hill Observing Site from 8 PM onwards this coming Saturday, April 22nd. Just in time for the peak, and to celebrate Dark Sky Week! These “star parties” are fixtures of a robust local astronomy scene, and definitely, an event I would recommend checking out. Typically, you bring whatever equipment you have (none, binoculars, your telescope, you name it!), and RASC fellows are onsite to provide tips, tricks, and occasionally their tools for demonstrations! 

If you love stars and are looking for a unique, family-friendly event this week, consider this one! You could even check out and bring a WPL stargazing book to go with it. Focusing on naked eye work for adults is Stargazing: Astronomy Without A Telescope by Patrick Moore, and for our younger patrons I’d recommend Professor Astro Cat’s Stargazing by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman, or Stargazing for Kids: An Introduction to Astronomy by Jonathan Poppele.

Lyrid Meteor Shower Star Party

Saturday, April 22, 8:00 pm – 2:00 am

Hackbart Hill Observing Site

RSVP on Facebook!