The Lyrid meteor shower has already started on April 16, and will last until April 25. We have been observing the Lyrids in the night sky every April for thousands of years. This year’s meteor shower is going to be better than usual. The Lyrid meteor shower will peak before dawn on Saturday, April 22. You can see it earlier or later than that if you are at a place where the skies are clear.
Interestingly, the peak is set to coincide with a waning crescent moon. Here’s all you need to know about the celestial spectacle.
What is Lyrid meteor shower?
It occurs when our planet passes through the dust particles left behind by Comet Thatcher. The flakes of comet dust enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 110,000 mph and burn up in the atmosphere at an altitude of nearly 60 miles. Comet Thatcher orbits our sun once every 415 years. It last visited the inner solar system way back in 1861. The next visit will occur in 2276. That’s why no one has yet been able to take pictures of it.
The Lyrids get their name from the constellation Lyra. The shower radiates from the direction of a blue-white star named Vega, located in constellation Lyra. Vega is the brightest star in Lyra, and appears the second brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. Vega, which is three times bigger than our sun, is 25 light-years away from the Earth.
When to watch the Lyrids?
The meteor showers are going to last until April 25. You can see the Lyrid meteor shower on any day between April 16-25, but the key date to remember is April 22. The shower will reach its peak just before dawn on Saturday, when 10-20 meteors can be seen per hour. The waning crescent moon should help the viewers if you can get away from the city light. The peak extends through the April 23 morning.
Some of the Lyrids can be even more intense than Venus, the shiniest object in the night sky after the moon. Back in 1982, American stargazers were able to observe almost 100 Lyrids per hour. A similar number of meteors were seen per hour from Japan in 1945 and from Greece in 1922.
How to watch the Lyrid meteor shower
Venture into rural areas, some place away from the bright lights. Be prepared to spend 30 minutes to one hour outside to adjust to the utter darkness. Make sure there is a wide open area from where you can see as much sky as possible. Now concentrate your gaze towards the northeast, where Vega star rises after 10 pm.
Of course, the meteors will streak across the sky in all directions, but it’s more interesting to find the radial point (Vega, in this case). The Lyrids would appear as if they are coming from the Vega star. You don’t necessarily need telescopes or binoculars. You should be able to see between 10-20 meteors per hour during the peak.
Who observed the first Lyrids?
The first Lyrid meteor shower was observed nearly 2700 years ago. Historical records suggest that the ancient Chinese observed the celestial spectacle in 687 BC and recorded it in the Zuo Zhan chronicles.
While you wait for April 22 to observe the Lyrids at their peak, a giant asteroid is passing by Earth on Wednesday, April 19. Fortunately, it will not collide with the Earth. The asteroid will come within about 1.1 million miles of our planet at its closest approach. That may seem like a huge distance, but on the cosmic scale, it is a close fly by for an asteroid measuring 650 meters across. NASA scientists will be monitoring the object to understand its physical properties. The asteroid can be seen in the night sky for a couple of days after April 19 before fading into the distance.