It takes 415.5 years for a comet called C/1861 G1 Thatcher to circle to sun. But every year in late April, our planet plows into the trail of dust the comet has left behind in its long journey around the sun. These bits of debris burn up in our atmosphere and stream across the night sky in bright streaks. It’s the Lyrid meteor shower.
And we can watch it peak this weekend, overnight between Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22.
The peak of the shower, at a rate of around 10 to 20 meteors per hour, can be seen just before before dawn on April 22. The waxing moon shouldn’t pose much of a problem.
You can improve your chances of the meteors: try to find a light-pollution free patch of the sky and give your eyes 30 minutes or so to get used to the dark. You won’t need a telescope to view it.
The best Lyrids ever observed had a rate of 100 meteors per hour and have been observed in the US in 1982, Japan in 1945, and Greece in 1922.
You don’t need to know where the Lyra constellation is to enjoy the meteor shower. “The idea that you must recognize a meteor shower’s radiant point in order to see any meteors is completely false,” according to EarthSky. When they come down, they can come down anywhere in the sky.
However, it helps to know what time the constellation is at the highest point in the sky, because that’s when you are likely to see the most meteors. In the northern hemisphere, where the meteor shower is best observed, Vega rises on the horizon at about 10pm local time and it reaches the high point just before dawn.
If you miss the Lyrids, don’t worry. There are plenty more meteor showers to spot this year.
The Eta Aquarids alight the sky on May 6 and 7. Then, the Perseids, arguably the best meteor shower of the year, will peak around August 13. After that, the Orionids appear in October, and the Leonids in November.
Image Source : Flickr/ Islam Hassan