The Lyrids meteor shower is famous for fireballs … here’s hoping.
To see shooting stars you need two things; comet dust and darkness. This week we have both of those things, with the simultaneous arrival of the Lyrid meteor shower and a New Moon—the perfect combination for anyone who wants to see fireballs in the night sky.
What is the Lyrid meteor shower?
It’s a semi-important, medium strength meteor shower that’s peaking in the darkest skies possible. As well as taking place just after a New Moon—when our satellite is just 1% illuminated—a reduction of light pollution because of lockdown may make shooting stars from the Lyrids easier to spot.
The American Meteor Society reports that observers can expect around 18 shooting stars per hour, each one traveling at 30 miles/48km per second. “These meteors also usually lack persistent trains but can produce fireballs,” reads it website. “Fireballs” are defined as very bright meteors about the same brightness as Venus.
When is the Lyrid meteor shower?
It takes place from April 16-30, 2020, but the “peak” is before dawn on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. However, the American Meteor Society state that the Lyrids usually produces good rates of shooting stars for three nights, so it’s worth also looking skywards on Tuesday, April 21 and Thursday, April 23, 2020.
How to see the Lyrid meteor shower
Best viewed from the northern hemisphere, shooting stars from the Lyrid meteor shower can appear anywhere in the sky, but they will appear to originate from the constellation of Lyra (the harp), which surround bright star Vega. That star rises in the northeast about 9 p.m. this week. From midnight until around an hour before dawn is the darkest time of night when Earth busts through the debris left in the solar system by comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). That’s when to maximize your chances of seeing shooting stars,
Is it possible to see shooting stars from cities?
Yes, but don’t expect dozens or hundreds to “rain” down on you. Although the Lyrids have been known to occasionally produce a “meteor storm,” the best best way to see some is merely to go outside and stargaze for a few hours. Pick-out some constellations—the Big Dipper, its parent constellation Ursa Major and Leo are perfectly placed in the “shooting stars zone”—and you’ll probably see one or two of the Lyrids.
A slight reduction in light pollution might make it easier to see bright Lyrids from cities in 2020, though the most important things are a clear sky and bags of patience.
When are the best meteor showers of 2020?
Again, it’s all about moonlight. Judged purely on shooting stars-per-second, the “best” meteor showers of the year and the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December. However, this year the Perseids will be washed-out by a big moon. So here’s your must-see shooting star-gazing schedule for 2020:
- April 21-22: Lyrids meteor shower (moon is 1% illuminated)
- November 16-17: Leonids meteor shower (moon is 5% illuminated)
- December 13-14: Geminids meteor shower (moon is 1% illuminated)
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.