How to Watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower When It Passes Through the Night Sky

Sunday, 15 April 2018 - 11:06AM
Space
Earth
Sunday, 15 April 2018 - 11:06AM
How to Watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower When It Passes Through the Night Sky
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Flickr/NASA on the Commons
For the rest of April, you'll have a good chance of seeing some shooting stars as the Lyrid meteor shower comes through this year.

Just like every April, the Lyrid shower will peak around April 22-23, and a few hours before dawn will be your best bet at seeing it if you're willing to get up early (or stay up late). But you'll have multiple chances to see it before then, as the shower starts as early as tomorrow evening on April 16, 2018, and lasts until April 25, 2018.

Assuming you're in low light conditions - i.e. outside the city, if you're an urban stargazer then you've made this trip before - and in a spot with no clouds, then you can expect to see about 10 to 20 meteors per hour during the peak, and the waxing moon should be setting early the night of April 22 which should even further reduce light pollution.



So long as the night sky conditions are good, it shouldn't matter too much where in the world you are. The Lyrid shower gets its name from the constellation Lyra, the harp, and so long as you can find that in the Eastern sky, the meteor shower just happens to radiate out from near this constellation. 

Of course, meteors will be falling all over the sky, but finding Lyra or its brightest star, Vega, is a good way to figure out how much of the shower you can see. Vega is one of the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere and it's blue-white in color, with a small parallelogram of stars condensed around it (this would be the cosmic harp), so keep an eye out for that.

Part of the reason that the Lyrid shower is so consistent each year is all of the meteors are tiny fragments of the Comet Thatcher (officially named C/1861 G1), which has a steady orbit through the solar system and leaves a large mass of particles the Earth frequently passes through. The comet itself has an orbit of 415 years, and was last seen in full on 1861, so don't expect that to find that this month. That'll require a couple hundred more years of patience, but keep an eye out for that one in the year 2276.

Slightly more common are outbursts of Lyrid meteors, which have happened in a handful of years but aren't expected this year. During outbursts, you can see up to 100 Lyrid meteors every hour during the peak. 

But as always, the Lyrid meteors will still be an impressive sight under normal conditions, so do try to go see them one night if you get the chance.
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