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Shooting stars will light up the night sky tonight — here's how to watch

The annual meteor shower is best viewed in a clear, pre-dawn sky.
Lyrid meteor shower
A meteor from the Lyrid meteor shower streaks through the sky above a barn along a country road in rural Oregon.Alamy
/ Source: TODAY

Want to see a spectacular show in the sky? Set your alarm for pre-dawn Wednesday morning.

The Lyrid meteor shower, which has made an appearance every April for the past 2,700 years, is set to peak around 4-5 a.m. local time, no matter where you are, according to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Alabama.

"Dark sky locations could have as many as 10-15 Lyrids per hour, as there will be no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors," Cooke told TODAY. The meteor shower has been known to occasionally wow skygazers with as many as hundreds of shooting stars per hour, according to NASA.

While this year is expected to be a bit tamer, it should still be an incredible spectacle. Here's what you need to know about where to look and when to watch.

The time

Although the meteor shower is active every year from around April 14 to 30, there are a few nights you won't want to miss. This year, the Lyrids are expected to peak between late Sunday, April 19 until the early morning of Wednesday, April 22, according to EarthSky's guide. The best time to watch is when the sky is fully dark. EarthSky recommends anytime between midnight and dawn, no matter where you are on Earth.

Where to look

The radiant point for the Lyrid meteor shower is near the constellation Lyra, which has the bright star Vega in the east. However, you don't need to be an astronomy buff to spot the shooting stars. Look east in a dark, clear sky, and the shooting stars should be easy to catch.

Deborah Byrd, editor-in-chief of EarthSky, told TODAY, "We like to say that meteor showers are like fishing. You go out in the country to some scenic spot, and you enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. And sometimes you catch something.

"That said, the Lyrids typically produce 10-15 meteors per hour at their peak. That’s one every few minutes," she said. "But meteor showers are inherently unpredictable, and there are no guarantees."

What causes the Lyrids

Shooting stars are actually tiny dust particles that glow when they enter Earth's atmosphere. In this case, the Lyrid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. While the comet orbits the sun once every 415 years, its long trail of debris is responsible for causing the Lyrid meteor shower to light up the sky every April for the last two thousand years.

The best way to watch

Special equipment isn't necessary to see the meteor shower. The best way to watch is to go outside and find an area of the sky that is dark, open and away from artificial lights, according to NASA. You can settle into a lawn chair or lay down on a blanket and gaze into the sky to relax and enjoy the annual show.