Sussex stargazers could be in for a treat as the Lyrids meteor shower rolls into Earth’s skies for its annual display until the end of the month.
The shower is not one of the year’s most spectacular, but can still provide those looking skyward with upwards of 20 ‘shooting stars’ per hour.
What are the Lyrids?
The Lyrids are caused by the interaction of the Earth’s atmosphere with the dust trail left by the Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.
When particles of debris enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up, producing a trail of light across the sky.
Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher only orbits the sun every 415 years, but occasionally, specific planetary arrangements can steer the dust trail into Earth’s path, intensifying the shower roughly every 60 years.
That won’t be happening in 2018, though observers could still be treated to some ‘Lyrid fireballs’, brighter meteors that can even cast shadows for a split second and leave behind a smoky debris trail that lasts minutes.
How to see them
The Lyrids should be visible with the naked eye, dependent on a couple of factors.
Weather plays a big part, and Sussex is set to have clear skies for the rest of the week and the weekend.
Living in an area with minimal light pollution will increase your chances of spotting a fireball, and those living in built up areas are advised to travel to less populated spaces if they really want to see the shower.
Wrapping up in warm clothes is recommended, and you should allow up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the night sky.
When to see them
The Lyrid meteor shower started last night and continues to April 25, and will peak this weekend (April 21/22).
Specifically, those wanting to observe the display should look to the sky between the night of April 21 and the morning of April 22, between midnight and dawn.
The Lyrids are so called because they appear to eminate from the constellation Lyra.
However, looking directly at it may cause you to miss the more spectacular meteors, and Lyrids can actually show up in any part of the sky.
How ‘spectacular’ will it be?
Relative to other meteor showers on the astronomical calendar, the Lyrids are one of the less dramatic displays, but they can still offer up an average of 20 meteors per hour.
That’s nothing compared to the shower of 1803, which delivered 700 meteors an hour.
That’s about one every five seconds.