After three months of low rates, April ushers in two major showers and a temporary upswing in meteor activity. The first of these showers is the Lyrids, which are active from April 16 through the 25th. Activity for this shower is low away from the peak night which expected to occur on April 21/22. Peak rates are predicted to occur near 18:00 Universal Time on April 22, which corresponds to the daylight hours for North America. Unfortunately a half illuminated moon will also be present in the morning sky reducing rates to between 5-10 per hour at maximum. So this is certainly not a strong display this year but may be used for a warm-up for the stronger Eta Aquariids, which peak in early May under better conditions.
On the night of maximum activity the Lyrid radiant is actually located in eastern Hercules, seven degrees southwest of the brilliant star Vega (Alpha Lyrae). This area of the sky lies below the horizon during the early evening hours. It attains a decent elevation between midnight and 0100 local daylight time, depending on your latitude. It is best situated high in a dark sky just before the start of morning twilight. While the Lyrids are not the strongest shower, it is notable that shower members will occasionally reach fireball intensity.
Observers in the Southern Hemisphere will see very little Lyrid activity as the radiant will be located low in the northern sky. All Lyrid meteors will trace back to the radiant area in eastern Hercules. There will be other showers and random activity visible during this period so not all meteors will be members of the Lyrid shower. Lyrid meteors will appear to travel swiftly through the sky unless they are seen near the radiant or near the horizon. Lyrids seen there will move more slowly as they are moving towards you (if seen near the radiant) or away from you (if seen near the horizon).
The Lyrids are particles from Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1). This comet has an orbital period of 415 years and the last time it was a perihelion was back in 1861. This shower has produced several notable outbursts. These occurred in the years 1803, 1849, 1850, 1884, 1922, 1945, and 1982. The 1803 event seems to the strongest as rates exceeded 500 Lyrids per hour at maximum. The 1982 event was seen from eastern USA where rates were estimated near 100 per hour at maximum. I witnessed the final portions of this outburst as I drove out to dark sky site. Lyrid meteors were seen shooting upward from the northeastern horizon. Once I arrived at my site the outburst was over and very little activity was seen the remainder of the night. The next possible outburst for this shower is predicted to occur in 2040 and 2041.