The annual Lyrid meteor shower is just around the corner, which gives stargazers around the world very little time to prepare for the cosmic treat that will unfold during the next week and a half.
Named after the Lyra constellation, from where these meteors seem to radiate (also known as their radiant point), this beautiful astrological event typically starts in mid-April and will begin tomorrow, April 16. The Lyrid meteor shower will occur for about 10 days, lasting until April 25.
However, your highest chance of catching a glimpse of the Lyrids in action will be next weekend, on April 22, when the 2018 Lyrid meteor shower is expected to peak.
According to EarthSky, your best bet to spot these meteors streaking across the sky will be in the early hours of Sunday morning, weather permitting. Those few hours before dawn are the perfect time to find a great spot away from the busy city lights, lie back in the crisp morning air and enjoy the stunning display on the dark, moonless sky.
Although the Lyrids will be active from April 16 to April 25, shooting across the sky all throughout the week, the peak of the meteor shower is undoubtedly the most mesmerizing to watch and should not be missed.
During their peak interval, Lyrid meteors usually fall at a rate of 10 to 20 an hour — considerably more than one would be able to see on any other day of the meteor shower.
The peak of the Lyrid shower is essentially a burst of meteors, which typically lasts for less than a day and can, on occasion, reach remarkable numbers of up to 100 meteors or more (a phenomenon called an “outburst”). This was the case in 1982, when American stargazers were treated to a stunning outburst of 100 Lyrid meteors per hour.
Though the 2018 Lyrid meteor shower will not be featuring an outburst of such incredible proportions, next week’s event will be spectacular nonetheless.
“Despite the Lyrids’ relatively low numbers, this shower can often produce bright, fast meteors, and about 15 percent leave behind persistent smoky trains that one can watch with binoculars for many minutes after the meteor itself has disintegrated,” reports the Altoona Mirror.
This year, the peak of the shower is expected to showcase about 18 meteors an hour, provided the sky is dark enough for them to be visible.
Luckily, the moon will not interfere with the 2018 Lyrid meteor shower, NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com.
“The moon will be really favorable for them this year; it will set by the time the Lyrid radiant is high in the sky,” Cooke explained.
Since we’ll be having a first quarter moon until 1:46 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, according to Travel + Leisure, nothing is expected to upstage the Lyrids at their peak.
So grab a warm blanket to shield you from the cool morning air and head out to a secluded place outside the city. Lie down on the grass or on the hood of your car with your feet pointing east and look up. Remember to allow your eyes about 30 minutes to adjust to the dark, The Indy Channel advises, and enjoy the magnificent show.
The good news is you don’t need to locate the shower’s radiant point in order to spot the falling Lyrids, states EarthSky. You can simply go out and watch the meteor shower without firstly identifying the Lyra constellation or its brightest star, Vega.
“Any meteors visible the sky will likely appear unexpectedly, in any and all parts of the sky,” clarifies the media outlet.
Nevertheless, you can still gauge the best time to watch the Lyrid meteor shower on your sky by knowing the rising time of the radiant point. The shower will intensify and produce more meteors as Vega climbs higher in the sky, so be mindful of the star’s rising time.
Even though the main event of this celestial display is April 22, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for the meteors on April 21 and 23 as well, EarthSky notes.
The Lyrid meteor shower is believed to be the oldest one known to man and originates from a long-period comet called Comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun about once every 415 years.
The Lyrids can be seen from Earth each time our planet crosses the comet’s ancient path and encounters the cosmic debris that Comet Thatcher left behind long ago. Last time Comet Thatcher came close to the sun was in 1861 and it is expected to return almost 260 years from now, in 2276.
Adding to next weekend’s excitement, stargazers will be delighted to know that the Lyrids are not the only meteor shower that will be going on in April. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower also starts next week, on April 19, and will last until May 28, offering a long stretch of spectacular “shooting stars” for sky watchers to revel in.
Just like the Orionids, the Eta Aquarids are produced by Halley’s Comet and they’ll be peaking this year on the night of May 6.