It’s not often one of the major meteor showers of the year. But as the Earth passes through debris in the orbit of Comet Thatcher, and if you’re getting up early anyway, you might want to check out the moonless skies directly overhead around 4AM.
Joe Rao at SPACE.com reports that the Lyrids are not as dense as the more famous regular showers, they do plow into Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 30 miles per second. If you catch a bright one, it will leave a visible trail. Plus, there’s always a chance for a surprise:
There are a number of historic records of meteor displays believed to be Lyrids, most notably in 687 B.C. and 15 B.C. in China and A.D. 1136 in Korea when “many stars flew from the northeast.” On April 20, 1803, many townspeople in Richmond, Virginia, were roused from their beds by a fire alarm and were able to observe a very rich display between 1 and 3 a.m. The meteors “seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of skyrockets.”
Why get up so early? You maximize your chances for viewing before dawn because the Earth will scoop up extra debris as the planet rotates into the swarm. From the post-sunset perspective, our planet will outrun the slowpokes of the swarm.