Last year was not a great year for meteor observers with the Moon interfering badly with most of the great annual showers. But this year promises to be much better and in April the Lyrids return, this time under favourable moonless skies.
Shower activity for the Lyrids begins around April 16th and lasts for about 10 days, peaking on April 22nd at 05:30UT. Since a certain element of unpredictability is attached to all meteor showers, it is well worth looking not only on the night of peak activity but also on the preceding and following nights.
If you trace the paths of meteors resulting from a periodic shower backwards, you will find that they always originate from the same place on the sky - the radiant point of the meteor shower. However, the meteors themselves are often seen many tens of degrees, and in a completely different area of sky to where the actual radiant is. For the observer on the ground, the meteors will therefore appear almost anywhere in the night sky.
The Lyrids radiant is located inside Hercules very near to the border with Lyra and only 6 degrees from the 5th brightest star in the sky, Vega (mag. 0.0). Normally, the Lyrids are a reasonably strong shower and in a good year, like this one, you might expect to see up to 15 or so meteors per hour. Contrast that with the year's best showers, the August Perseids and the December Geminids, both of which produce four times more meteors at rates typical of 60 per hour.
The best time of night to observe the meteor shower is around midnight or during the early hours of the morning. The Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, but there are occasional fireballs that streak through the sky, casting shadows for a short time and leaving a trail of dust and debris as they disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere.
Good advice for observers is to find a dark location away from streetlights. Then wrap up warm with a hot drink nearby, lie down on a reclining chair and then look skywards. Simply relax and enjoy the Lyrids meteor shower along with the beautiful spring night sky.
Lyrids Meteor Shower Data Table
|Meteor shower name||Lyrids|
|Radiant Constellation||Hercules / Lyra border|
|Dates||16th April -> 26th April|
|Peak Date||22nd April|
|RA (J2000)||18hr 04m|
|Parent||C/1861 G1 Thatcher (comet)|