It’s been awhile since the last meteor shower in January. But finally the shooting star showers are back! The first one to illuminate the spring skies is April Lyrid meteor shower: one of the oldest showers observed and one of the most reliable ones! Every year it rains Lyrid meteors from April 16 to April 26th with the maximum on April 22- 23. This star shower is a modest though, even at peak times you can expect to see only around 10 meteors every hour. In 2019 the Lyrids observers will have to face an additional challenge: the Moon. This April the shower will peak only 3 days after the Full Moon when the Moon will still be 90% illuminated. That means only the brightest Lyrid meteors will be visible here on Earth. Let’s make sure we spot them all!
When and where to look
The name of the shower suggests that the shooting stars appear to come from the constellation Lyra, the harp. More precisely, the radiant of the shower (that is the point in the sky from where the meteors seem to originate) lies near the constellations’ brightest star Alpha Lyra, or Vega. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to find Vega to see the meteor shower. But knowing the time when Vega is the highest in the sky in your location will help you choose the right time for observations!
Plan your Lyrids star gazing party for after 9 PM this year!
The origin of the Lyrid meteor shower
Like with most other meteor showers, the parent of the Lyrids is a comet. The one responsible for the Lyrid meteors is called C/ 1861 G1 (Thatcher)*. Every year the Earth crosses the path of the Thatcher comet’s “veil”, the debris left behind after the comet’s last close approach to the Sun. When this debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s time to count Lyrid shooting stars!
* C/ 1861 G1 (Thatcher)
“C” means that the comet is nonperiodic. Scientist think its orbital period might be 415 years or so. The comet made its last close approach in 1861. We hope to see it again around year 2280.
“1861” stands for the year when it was discovered.
“G” means that the comet was discovered in the first half of April (A=first half of January, B=second half of January, C=first half of February and so on).
“1” means that Thatcher comet was the first one discovered during that period.
Thatcher, as you have probably already guessed, is the name of the comet’s discoverer!
You see, the names of the comets are very informative. And, OK, a bit boring!
Lyrid meteor shower in history
- On April 19, 1787 the famous British astronomer William Herschel observed something that he thought was a volcano eruption on the Moon. Because we know that there is no present volcanic activity on the Moon (and hasn’t been for the past 100 mln years or so) scientist think that what Herschel actually observed was a meteor from Lyrid meteor shower. Oops! ( By the way, the strange events, flashes, colourful patches etc, that observers often report seeing on the Moon are collectively known as Transient Lunar Phenomena. You can learn more about them in our blog post Mystery of the Moon.
- Lyrids are not the most impressive shower, but occasionally they surprise the skywatchers with amazing outbursts. The last documented outburst happened on April 20, 1803. Who knows, maybe this year we will witness another one! Keep your eyes peeled!
Read our fun and educational space blog and find out all about other annual meteor showers.
Visit our inflatable star dome and learn more about the night sky.
Send your questions and comments to our portable planetarium team.