Lyrids meteor shower

The Lyrids Meteor Shower will peak tonight between midnight and dawn.

The Lyrids Meteor shower is caused as Earth passes through the cloud of debris left by a comet called C/186 G1 Thatcher. Comet Thatcher orbits the sun every 415.5 years and leaves behind it a trail of debris; as Earth crosses the comet’s orbit every year, gravity pulls pieces of the debris into our atmosphere where they burn up.

The surface of the meteors will reach temperatures as high 1600°C; glowing brightly, they are visible as shooting stars, short-lived streaks of light in the sky. Most meteors are so small that they burn up well before they hit the ground but a handful will get through. These are what we call meteorites, real visitors from outer space.

The Lyrids are very bright and fast and make up one of the oldest known meteor showers. They have been observed for 2,700 years: the first recorded sighting of a Lyrid meteor shower was made by the Chinese in 687 BC.

This astonishing composite image of Lyrid meteors over planet Earth was taken from the International Space Station by Don Pettit in 2012.

This year’s peak coincides with the new moon tonight and the skies will be especially dark so visibility will be good. The Met Office has promised us between 10 and 15 meteors per hour during a cloudless night and lockdown has reduced particulate pollution from traffic so the skies are also especially clear.

We can’t, in these times of lockdown, recommend that you leave your home to search out a dark place to view the meteor shower but if you turn out all your lights, wrap up warm, and take a lounger into the garden, it could be well worth a late night. And as you won’t be driving anywhere, we can recommend a Thermos of hot toddy.

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