The Lyrids meteor shower is active through April 30, but it will likely peak tonight through early tomorrow morning. What is a meteor shower? It is a collection of rock-and-ice debris left behind by a comet that begins to burn once it enters Earth’s atmosphere. This specific Lyrids shower comes from the Comet Thatcher, which circles the sun every 415 years or so. It’s also one of the oldest-recorded showers, with sightings going back to 687 BC China.
So, how can you see it tonight from the Washington region? We reached out to members of the National Capital Astronomers for their tips.
The darker, the better
This is kind of a duh tip, but really—try to get somewhere far away from town. “The best way to see any meteor shower is to drive as far as possible from city lights to a wide open field, armed with a cot or a lightweight reclining chair, and a blanket or sleeping bag,” writes NCA member Guy Brandenburg in an email. “Set it up, lie down on your back, get comfortable, and look up.”
He suggests checking out Big Meadows campground in Shenandoah National Park, and NCA president Harold Williams recommends trying Alpha Ridge Park in Howard County. But if either are too far of a drive, a local park or playing field with its lights turned off could work.
Oh, and you don’t need any tools like telescopes or binoculars—just an uninterrupted view of the sky.
Be prepared to stay up late (or wake up really, really early)
“Meteor showers are generally better after midnight, because of the physical geometry of how the Earth goes around the sun,” writes Brandenburg, “and this time is no exception.” Because the moon is currently in its first quarter phase, its glow will likely overpower the shower until it sets around 4 AM, he says. So the best time to catch a glimpse of the Lyrids will likely be between 3:30 AM and dawn.
Don’t sit on an ant hill
Williams puts it best: “Avoid laying down in an ant bed in the dark with cookies.” (Yes, he’s done this.) Safety first—always check your star-gazing area with a flashlight before sitting down.