Lyrids Meteor Shower. How and When to Observe the First Spring Falling Stars

In the period from mid-January to early April, our planet moves in an area of space with a lower concentration of interplanetary dust. This is manifested, among other things, in the absence of significant meteor showers and a general decrease in the number of “shooting stars”. But already in the middle of spring, bright meteors belonging to the swarm of Lyrids begin to appear more and more often in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere. This year its maximum is expected at the night from April 21 to 22.

The radiant of this shower is located in the constellation Lyra, about 10° from Vega, the second brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere of the celestial sphere. The maximum of Lirids is noticeably stretched in time. Some years, for half a day or even more, observers register about 20-25 meteors per hour.

The first mention of the Lirids was found in Chinese chronicles dating back to 687 BC. Thus, it is the oldest of all known meteor showers. From time to time, it pleases astronomers with “star showers”. Unfortunately, they are irregular and unpredictable, in contrast to the famous Leonid meteor showers. In particular, century ago — on April 21, 1922 — European observers noted a surge of Lirids activity to more than two thousand per hour.

As it was established at the end of the XIX century, the parent body of this shower is the bright comet Thatcher, which approached the Earth in May 1861. Then our planet even briefly plunged into the comet tail. Dust particles ejected from the nucleus of this comet continue to move along almost parallel trajectories close to its orbit. When they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, thanks to the perspective effect, we see them “flying apart” from one imaginary point — the radiant.

View of the northeastern part of the sky around midnight at the end of April. The position of the Lirid radiant is marked with a circle

As Comet Thatcher’s orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by almost 80°, the radiant of Lyrid is located far beyond the zodiacal constellations. Due to its high declination, this stream is one of the most convenient for observations in our latitudes. Unfortunately, this year’s weather conditions, the almost full moon, and the war in Ukraine are not very favourable for astronomers, but if there are windows in the clouds, try to find the constellation Lyra in the sky – at around 10 pm it is visible in the northeast not too high above the horizon. You may be able to see the fiery trails of meteor particles ejected by the “tailed star”, which will return no earlier than 2280.

The most powerful meteor shower in the Earth’s sky is the Geminids, which peak on 13-14 December.