Lyrid meteor shower 2018: How to watch the Lyrids in the UK
The Lyrid meteor shower happens every spring, lighting up the sky for a few days with particles of dust from a passing comet. It’s an impressive sight if you’re able to see it, and this year’s event should be coupled with clear skies for an unmissable spectacle.
Here’s our rundown of the main things you need to know about the Lyrids, including the best dates for catching the natural lightshow.
When is the Lyrid meteor shower?
The Lyrid meteor show roughly falls from 16-25 April each year. The peak in this period will generally coincide with a time when the moon is at its dimmest – allowing the meteoroids to be seen more clearly. This will happen on Sunday 22 April in 2018, which also happens to be Earth Day 2018.
Hold on, what is a meteor shower?
Meteor showers happen when the Earth’s orbit brings the planet through the debris of a comet’s trail – hence why they tend to happen on yearly cycles. The shower itself is caused by small particles – normally smaller than a grain of sand – entering Earth’s atmosphere at speeds reaching 134,000mph.
Okay, so what is the Lyrid meteor shower?
If you were to draw the paths of every meteoroid in a meteor shower, it would look like they are all emanating from a single area in the sky. This is an optical illusion. The meteoroids are actually all travelling in parallel paths and at the same velocity, but – like staring down a stretch of train tracks will make it seem as if the rails converge on a single vanishing point – a trick of perspective makes it look as if the bright particles are all radiating from one point.
That illusory point is called a radiant point, and a meteor shower gets its name from the constellation that its radiant point is closest to. In this case, the constellation is Lyra – hence Lyrids
(An illustration of the Lyrids’ radiant point. Credit: EarthSky.org)
The source of the shower is actually the long-period Comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher), or more precisely the particles of dust shed by the comet, which linger in space as the comet makes its 415-year orbit. The comet itself hasn’t been in the inner solar system since 1861, and isn’t expected to return until 2276. For now, we’re left with its dust.
Can I watch the Lyrid meteor shower in the UK?
Yes. The meteor shower will look like it is radiating from the constellation Lyra, which is in the northeast on the northern hemisphere. You’ll have the best luck seeing the constellation between midnight and early morning, although you don’t need to worry too much about catching the precise constellation – the shower will skate across a large portion of the sky.
If you’re lucky, you should be able to see around 15 meteoroids per hour during the meteor shower’s peak on Sunday. Make sure you’re away from bright lights to give yourself the best chance of spotting the meteoroids. Keep warm and bring a chocolate bar or two!