Lyrid meteor shower: NASA's all-sky cameras capture fireballs
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As of November 2019, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) recognises 112 annual meteor showers. Among them, the Perseids and Geminids are some of the most spectacular phenomena visible from Earth. The Gamma Normids were the last shower that peaked around March 15, although the event went unnoticed by most.
The shower is one of the year’s weakest meteor displays, producing less than 10 shooting stars an hour during the peak.
The good news is, however, the upcoming Lyrids promise to have a more bountiful zenith.
Astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich said: “The Lyrid meteor shower is a burst of meteor activity occurring around mid to late April.
“Meteors are small chunks of debris left in the wake of certain celestial objects, like asteroids or comets.”
Meteor showers occur when our planet ploughs through the debris field left behind one of these space rocks.
The small objects enter the atmosphere at breakneck speeds and reach temperatures as high as 1,600C, which produces a beautiful, glowing streak in the skies.
When is the next meteor shower?
The Lyrids are active each year in the spring for about a week or so.
This year, astronomers expect the shower to be active between April 16 and 25.
The shower’s peak – when you see the highest concentration of meteors – will fall on the morning of April 22 (the night of April 21).
Wait until after midnight, which is when the shower’s radiant in the constellation Lyra will rise over the eastern horizon.
The longer you wait, the higher the constellation will rise, meaning fewer meteors will be lost below the horizon.
Meteor captured soaring over Little Rock in Arkansas
Depending on your location and with a bit of luck, you might be able to spot one or two Lyrids on the morning of April 23 as well.
According to the Royal Observatory, the Lyrids will produce about 18 meteors an hour on the night of their peak.
Other estimates vary in intensity, but weather permitting you should still be treated to a beautiful display.
One factor that might get in the way is the presence of a bright, Waxing Gibbous Moon.
The Observatory said: “This means you already have to contend with a near-Full Moon’s worth of stray light.
“Keeping away from city lights will at least give you a good chance of seeing some meteors.”
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What is the Lyrid meteor shower?
All meteor showers originate in the debris and dust left behind an asteroid or comet racing around the Sun.
The Lyrids are the product of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher – a long-period comet that completes a lap of the Sun every 415 years.
According to the US space agency NASA, the Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers.
Stargazers have been watching the Lyrids for at least 2,7000 years and the first sighting was recorded in the year 687 BC by the Chinese.
NASA said: “The Lyrids appear to come from the vicinity of one of the brightest stars in the night sky – Vega.
“Vega is one of the easiest stars to spot, even in light-polluted areas.”
The shower is named after its radiant point – the point from which it appears to emerge – in the constellation Lyra.
Although not as spectacular as some of the bigger showers, the Lyrids are known to produce some beautiful fireballs.
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