How British astronomers can observe the oldest annual meteor shower

How British astronomers can observe the oldest annual meteor shower

Parts of the UK are being treated to a dazzling spectacle as the oldest annual meteor shower known to man streaks through Earth’s atmosphere.

The Lyrid meteor shower peaks each year in late April and was first spotted in 687 BC by Chinese astronomers. This particular display is known for its fast, bright meteors and produces around 18 per hour.

How to watch the Lyrid meteor shower

The moon is almost full tonight and will be the “pink moon” of spring, which unfortunately looks like any other full moon. The brightness of the moon means you’ll have to watch more closely to see the shower.

NASA recommends observing during the “dark hours” after moonset and before sunrise. For the UK this will be around 5am.

Lyrid meteors fall across the sky at the bathing house near Howick, Northumberland on April 22, 2020. Photo: PA

Clouds have long vexed stargazers and for parts of the UK, tonight will be no different. The best places to view the shower will be around Preston, Manchester, Kendal, Scotland and around the south east coast from Lowestoft to Brighton.

NASA recommends letting your eyes adjust to the darkness for about 30 minutes. After that you will start seeing meteors.

“Be patient,” advises the space agency. “The show will last until dawn, so you’ll have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

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The Lyrids peaked on the night of April 22, but will be visible for the rest of the month around the Northern Hemisphere. However, the further you go from the summit, the less you will see.

The Lyrid meteor shower in 2020
The Lyrid meteor shower seen from Russia in 2020. Photo: Reuters

What causes the Lyrid meteor shower

The Lyrids come from the constellation Lyra. Their true origin is Comet Thatcher, named not for the former Prime Minister but for amateur astronomer Alfred Thatcher, who discovered it in 1861.

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Meteors are pieces of debris left in the wake of comets and other celestial objects. As the Earth passes the debris, some of it falls into the atmosphere.

These fragments move very quickly relative to our atmosphere, causing the air around them to heat up.

This causes the meteor to also heat up and shine brightly, which is what we see.

The surface of these meteors can reach up to 1,600 degrees Celsius.


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