The Lyrid meteor shower is expected to peak Friday and Saturday between midnight and dawn.
This year’s Lyrid peak coincides with a new moon assuring dark skies for maximum viewing. Clouds and a chance of precipitation are expected so your best chance to see will be around midnight for a couple of hours.
The source of this, the oldest known meteor shower, is solid debris from the comet known as "Thatcher" discovered in 1861. As Earth passes through the icy comet’s path, that debris enters our atmosphere creating a “shooting star” as it burns up.
Look to the constellation Lyra (the harp) after it rises in the northeast around 10 p.m. Lyra can be found by looking for Vega, the second brightest star in our sky. The radiant, or the point in the sky where the meteors appear to fall from, is slightly up and the right of Vega.
The Lyrids normally produce 10-20 visible meteors per hour at this peak time. However surges of up to 90 per hour have been observed in the past. The number of meteors visible and quality of the show all depends on the amount of material Thatcher has shed recently and how much the weather corporates.
The next meteor shower is the Eta Aquarids around May 5, but activity will likely be obscured by the full moon.
Skywatchers have Aug. 13 marked on their calendars for very active Persieds which should be visible for several hours before just a sliver of moon appears. The story is similar for the Geminids around Dec. 13 which also coincide with a new moon.
If you visit the grand opening of the new wing of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, volunteers from the http://www.raleighastro.org/ Raleigh Astronomy Club will be on hand all night to share their telescopes with visitors on plaza outside the museum and on the rooftop. Be sure to ask one of them to point out Lyra to you.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.