For the rest of the year Australia has roughly one meteor shower per month to look forward to, and the next one is coming up tonight — the Lyrids. We explain how to watch, and when.
Lyrids image via Shutterstock
The Lyrids are one of the oldest chronicled meteor showers, being referred to by ancient Chinese stargazers in 687 B.C who noted that "at midnight, stars dropped down like rain." The meteors are sandgrain-sized pieces of dust and ice from comet Thatcher, which throw up a larger show every 60 years or so — showers in 1982 and 1922 displayed up to 90 meteors per hour, while a shower in 1803 produced around 700 meteors per hour.
Unfortunately we aren't expecting anything so spectacular this year. As far as meteor showers go, the Lyrids are one of the weaker ones, and sometimes difficult to view from the Southern Hemisphere. While the shower is active between April 16 and 25, the peak occurs on April 22 — Friday night.
This peak unfortunately also happens to coincide with a full moon, reducing the overall visibility of the shower. However if you're lucky enough to find a place with little cloud cover and light pollution you should be able to see something — the Lyrids can sometimes put out more than one meteor per minute.
Your best time for viewing the Lyrids is between midnight and dawn — and the later you stay up, the higher above the horizon the radiant will rise. Time and Date has a table updated daily showing the azimuth and altitude of the radiant for a number of Australian locations:
This is where the radiant will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere, estimated at 3am AEST:
Image via Stellarium
To get the best from this year's Lyrids, remember the following tips for optimum meteor shower viewing:
- Reduce light pollution. The further away you are from any major cities, the better.
- Find a vantage point. Meteor showers can hang close to the horizon for much of the early part of the night, but the higher up your viewing point is, the easier you'll see them.
- Use an app to locate the shower. Using a star viewing app can be the best way to locate the radiant point for the shower — in this case, the constellation Lyra.
- Let your eyes adjust. The longer you sit in the dark, the more your eyes will pick up even when the meteors are very faint. Limit your phone use as much as possible!
- Scan the sky. Though the Lyrids have a radiant point, they can appear anywhere in the sky. Remember to constantly be scanning for your best chance of seeing something.
If you miss the shower on Friday night (or just don't want to get out of your warm, cozy bed) Slooh will be putting on a live show at 8PM EDT — a comfy 10am on Saturday morning, AEST: