Shooting star season starts with the first major shower since the Quadrantids back in early January.
The first quarter of each year is relatively quiet for meteor showers, but the drought is ending with the Lyrid meteor shower, which peaks this Thursday night and Friday morning.
The Lyrids became active April 14, just before this month's full "pink" moon last Saturday. The pink moon isn't actually pink, but is named for the pink ground phlox flower.
Things really heat up when the Lyrids reach their peak on the night of April 21, into the early hours of April 22. As these showers go, the Lyrids are pretty average and produce about 15 to 20 meteors per hour under ideal viewing conditions.
But this shower has a special place in the hearts of die-hard sky watchers as it typically takes place under mild weather and is the first major opportunity to spot a shooting star in several months. What can make a night of looking at Lyrids memorable, though, is the shower's proclivity for producing bright fireballs.
The source of the Lyrids is debris left behind by the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. Around this time each year, Earth drifts through a cloud of dust and other cosmic detritus, which, when it smacks into our atmosphere and burns up high above us, is visible for a few fantastic, fleeting seconds.
To have the best chance to see the show, you'll want to make a plan to head out on the peak night, or perhaps the night before or after. Find a spot away from light pollution with a broad, clear view of the sky. The best time for viewing is roughly between midnight and two a.m., local time, when the radiant that the meteors seem to emanate from will be higher in the sky, but before the moon comes up to wash them out.
The Lyrids are named for the constellation Lyra the harp, because they appear to travel outward from the part of the sky that the constellation and its bright star Vega occupy. It can be helpful to position Lyra in your line of sight, but usually just having a wide view of the sky is good enough to see shooting stars or fireballs.
Once you're ready, find a comfortable spot to lie back, give your eyes at least15 minutes to adjust to the dark and then just relax and watch. Best of luck!