Lyrid meteor shower: NASA's all-sky cameras capture fireballs

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The Lyrid meteor shower arrives in the spring each year, appearing from about mid-April and peaking later in the month. Lyrids are not the most bountiful of this year’s showers but still promise to dazzle with an unforgettable spectacle full of shooting stars. Individual Lyrids will burst into the atmosphere at breakneck speeds, leaving behind short-lived streaks of light in the sky.

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

Each year around the same time, the Earth ploughs through a field of debris left behind by the Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1).

Bits and pieces of the icy body slam into the atmosphere at speeds of about 50km/s before disintegrating into shooting stars.

According to the astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London, the meteors heat up to a scorching 1,600C before they vanish.

The observatory said: “Most meteors are so small that they burn up well before they hit the ground.”

The Lyrids are the oldest-known meteor shower with records showing our ancestors knew of the spectacle as early as 687 BC.

And the shower is named after the constellation of Lyra, from which it appears to originate.

When is the Lyrid meteor shower peak?

Meteor showers typically last between one and two weeks.

During this time, you should see individual shooting stars here and there.

The real spectacle takes place on the night of the so-called peak when the shower is at its most intense.

The Lyrids are expected to peak this year on the night of April 22.

During this peak, astronomers predict about 18 meteors an hour will dash across the skies.

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The US space agency NASA said: “The Lyrids are known for their bright meteors, though not as fast or as plentiful as the famous Perseids in August, Lyrids can surprise watchers with as many as 100 meteors seen per hour.

“Sightings of these heavier showers occurred in 1803 (Virginia), 1922 (Greece), 1945 (Japan) and 1982 (US).

“In general, 10 to 20 Lyrid meteors can be seen per hour during the peak.”

The meteors will leave behind glowing dust trains which can be observable for several seconds.

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How to best see the Lyrids this year:

The shower might be spoiled somewhat by the presence of a bright Moon this year.

The April Pink Moon will peak in brightness just four days after the shower, making it harder to spot the shooting stars.

According to EarthSky astrologers Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd you might have some luck in spotting the Lyrids on the morning of the shower’s peak.

They said: “In 2021, we expect the shower to pick up steam beginning late at night Monday, April 19, probably peaking in the predawn hours on Thursday, April 22.

“The following morning (April 23) might be good too, if you’re game.”

The best time to see a meteor shower is typically between midnight and dawn.

Dark and clear skies are key to meteor hunting and the Lyrids are no exception.

Find a quiet and secluded place, like a field, that has an unobstructed view of the horizon and as little light pollution as possible.

Dress appropriately for the weather, grab some snacks and hydration, and turn off your phone.

Your eyes will take up to 20 minutes to adjust to the dark.

Once you are ready, simply lie down and try to take as much of the night sky in as possible – the Lyrids will appear to emerge from all direction.

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