Friday, June 2, 2023

Starwatch: the Lyrid meteor shower is about to reach its peak


The Lyrid meteor shower will reach its peak in the early hours of 23 April. Created by dust from the tail of comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher), the Lyrids are not usually vast in number – only about 18 an hour are expected – but they are often very bright and fast moving. Some of the more spectacular ones are known to burn up so brightly that they cast shadows.

This year, viewing conditions are expected to be good because the moon has just 9% of its surface illuminated, so even faint meteors will be visible. Occasionally, brief outbursts of 100 meteors an hour have been recorded for the Lyrids. The last report of such an outburst came from the US in 1982 and before that Japan in 1945, and Greece in 1922.

The chart shows the view looking east from London at midnight as 22 April becomes 23 April. The meteors will appear to emanate from the radiate point, labelled Lyrids, and could travel in any direction away from it. Remember, meteor watching takes patience: expect to be under the stars for an hour or two at least. So, wrap up warm. The shower is also visible from the southern hemisphere. From Cape Town, South Africa, the radiant will have climbed high enough into the sky by about 02.00 SAST.

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