Get ready to witness one of the oldest and most spectacular celestial events - the Lyrid meteor shower - as Earth passes through the trail of debris left by Comet Thatcher.
Skygazers can look forward to catching the meteor shower this weekend, with up to 18 meteors per hour expected to light up the dawn skies. The celestial display will peak in the early hours of Sunday (23 April) and will be visible until dawn.
There will be bright fast meteors – some with trains, according to the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Also, the peak comes just after New Moon, which means views of the spectacle will not be impeded by moonlight.
But what exactly is the Lyrid meteor shower, when is the best time to see it, and what are some tips to spot as many meteors as you possibly can? Here is everything you need to know about it.
What is the Lyrid meteor shower?
The Lyrid meteor shower is an annual meteor shower that occurs in mid-to-late April. It is named after the constellation Lyra, from which the meteors appear to radiate. It is one of the oldest known meteor showers, with records of its observations dating back more than 2,700 years, and was first recorded in China in 687 BC.
It has been observed by astronomers and skywatchers ever since, and has become known for producing bright and fast meteors, with some meteors leaving persistent trains, which are glowing trails that last for a few seconds after the meteor has passed.
During the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, which typically occurs around 22 April, observers can expect to see around 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
However, the number of meteors visible can vary from year to year; in some years, the Lyrid meteor shower can produce up to 100 meteors per hour, while in other years the number of meteors visible may be much lower.
The Lyrid meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the debris left behind by the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which orbits the sun once every 415 years. When the debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it heats up and creates the streaks of light known as meteors.
The comet was last seen in 1861, and is not expected to return to the inner solar system until around the year 2276.
How to see it
The Lyrid meteor shower can be observed with the naked eye, and the best time to observe it is after midnight and before dawn when the constellation Lyra is high in the sky.
You’ll want to find a dark location from which to get the best views of the shower, as the darker the location, the better the viewing experience will be. You’ll likely still be able to see some of the brighter meteors from wherever you are, but finding a spot away from city lights and light pollution will increase your chances of seeing even more.
Once you’re in your chosen viewing spot, give your eyes time to adjust to the dark. You might think this would only take around a few minutes, but it can take about 20 minutes for your eyes to properly adjust to low light levels, so be patient.
Of course, April nights aren’t usually the most temperate, especially in the UK, so if you’re planning to spend an extended amount of time outside, bring something comfortable to sit onObserving the meteor shower can take some time, so make sure to bring something comfortable to sit on, and check the weather forecast and dress appropriately for the conditions.
While the meteors will be visible in almost every section of the night sky, they will appear to radiate from the constellation Lyra, so look towards that direction in the sky.
It may also be tempting to whip out a pair of binoculars to get a closer view of the meteors, but these will actually narrow your field of view, making it even harder to spot the shooting stars as they whiz across the sky (they’re still useful for observing other celestial objects like the Moon and planets of our Solar System though).
When will it be visible in 2023?
The Lyrid meteor shower can be seen every year in mid-to-late April.
In 2023, it is expected to be visible in the northern hemisphere from Sunday 16 April to Tuesday 25 April with the peak occurring on the night of Saturday 22 April into the early morning hours of 23 April.