Every year, in the spring, from April 16 to 26, the Earth meets in its revolving motion around the Sun, the remains of the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher. The latter is a comet of (relatively) short period, which crosses our orbit every 415 years. The last close encounter took place on May 5, 1861, when the comet passed to about 0.33 AU from our planet. The following June 3, 1861, instead, the comet found itself in perihelion, the closest point to the Sun.
The radiant is in the constellation of the Lyra, hence the name of Lyrids, near the main star Vega, a star of class A0 about 25 light years from Earth. The Lyrids are also the oldest meteor shower, with a record in history dating back to 687 BC.
This meteor shower is certainly one of the most interesting of the year, guaranteeing an average between 5 and 20 shooting stars every hour on the night between 22 and 23 April, from dark skies or far from strong sources of light pollution. Occasionally, every 60 years or so, this meteor shower dramatically increases its activity, giving rise to an outburst. During the last one, in 1982, 90 shooting stars were counted every hour, an amount similar to those observed at the previous ourburst in 1922. In 1803 even 700 shooting stars were observed every hour by a journalist in Richmond, Virginia.
Photo of the article by Daniel Reinhardt.