The celestial show is already underway, but is expected to peak on Thursday morning, with up to 20 meteors per hour. According to NASA, Lyrid meteors often produce luminous dust trails that can be seen for several seconds.
This year, the Lyrids will be easier to see as they will streak across a dark sky — the crescent moon is expected to set shortly after midnight.
The best time to watch for the meteors is in the hours before dawn, someplace with a clear view of the sky away from city lights.
Anywhere in the sky
The meteors will generally seem to come from the constellation Lyra, featuring the bright star Vega. But they can appear anywhere in the sky, so you don't need to look in any particular direction, advises Slooh, an organization that streams astronomical events live online. Nor do you need any special equipment — the meteors are best seen with your eyes.
If you don't feel like staying up late, getting up early, or going outside in the cold, you can watch online. Slooh will stream the meteor shower from its observatory on the Canary Islands with commentary from astronomers starting at 8 p.m.ET Wednesday.
Meteor showers take place when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by an object such as a comet. In the case of the Lyrids, the dust and particles were left behind by a comet called Thatcher C/1861 G1, which orbits the sun once every 415 years. When the meteors hit the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, they appear as shooting stars.
The Lyrids aren't as spectacular as August's Perseids or December's Geminids, which peak at about 100 meteors per hour. But NASA notes that they're the oldest recorded meteor shower, first described by the Chinese in 687 B.C.Suggest a correction