Mid-April is the actual opening of meteor season, thanks to improving weather and a long period of calmer skies in the previous months. The peak of this year’s Lyrids meteor shower will open on Thursday, April 21st.
Set out before sunrise on April 21 and 22 to catch the rest of the summit. However, if you’re cloudy or otherwise busy, know that you may be lucky enough to catch a few stray Lyrids before or after these times.
What Causes Meteor Showers?
Meteor showers occur when planet Earth, as it orbits the Sun, plows into a stream of dust left behind by an asteroid (a space rock) or a comet (an icy snowball).
You can think of comets and asteroids as the prehistoric remains of our solar system. These are small bodies that formed billions of years ago, before the planets and moons merged. Asteroids and comets come into the inner solar system due to the gravitational pull of our sun dominating the neighborhood.
Meteor showers are completely harmless to us as they are essentially trails of dust in space. These fragments, some of which are very small, disintegrate high up in the atmosphere. When the fragments impact our atmosphere, they can leave impressive fiery trails. We call these atmospheric traces “shooting stars” or rather “meteor showers”.
How old is the Lyrid meteor shower?
NASA says the Lyrids have been recorded for at least 2,700 years. The first known sighting was in 687 BC. During the Zhou Dynasty in China – the longest-lasting dynasty in this country.
What creates the dust trail is comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher discovered on April 5, 1861 by AE Thatcher. The comet has an orbital period of 415 years and will next pass close to us in 2276.
How to see the Lyrid meteor shower
To find the Lyrids, look for the bright star Vega in the constellation of Lyra (the Harp). However, depending on your culture, you may have a different name for Vega than the standard International Astronomical Union designation.
Vega is the “radiant” of the shower, meaning that the meteors appear to be coming from this region. For best results, however, we recommend looking away from Vega. This allows you to see meteors with longer streaks.
Most meteor showers are best visible around 2 a.m. local time. While the meteor shower can be seen in both hemispheres, Vega is much higher in the sky in the northern hemisphere and you will see more meteors there. It is not necessary to use binoculars or a telescope to view the shower, but a chair and perhaps a coat might be useful to get comfortable.
If you go out, give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adjust to the dark. Try to avoid light pollution as much as possible. If you plan to use a flashlight or your phone, cover the device with red paper or plastic to protect your night vision.
Lyrid Meteor Shower 2022 Forecast
Luckily for skygazers, the moon is in a waning crescent phase in the sky and doesn’t significantly interfere with observations. NASA predicts the highest meteor rate for the Lyrids in 2022 will be 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
Historically, skywatchers surprised with meteorite bursts a few years ago. Sightings of up to 100 meteors per hour have been recorded at locations such as 1803 (Virginia), 1922 (Greece), 1945 (Japan) and 1982 (US), NASA says. But these eruptions are not easy to predict.
When is the next meteor shower in 2022?
The next meteor shower will be the Eta Aquarids, which are expected to peak between May 4th and 5th. However, if you’re looking for a bigger show, keep an eye out for the Perseids in August. The main night for the Perseids is expected to be August 11-12.