Lyrids meteor shower: When and how to see it

Last updated at 08:11
Lyrids meteor shower seen over Germany n 2018.Getty Images
Lyrids meteor shower seen over Germany in 2018

Astronomy fans may be looking to the skies the next couple of nights because the Lyrids meteor shower is set to hit its peak.

The amazing sight happens every year and will be particularly visible this year between 21 and 22 April.

NASA says the Lyrids have been observed for 2,700 years. They're known for their fast, bright meteors.

It has to be dark to see it properly so people wanting to catch a glimpse will have to stay up late with the time between midnight and 3am in the UK expected to be the best time to take a look.

What are the Lyrids?
LyridsNASA
A shooting star of the Lyrid meteor shower is observed from China's Mingantu Observing Station of National Astronomical Observatories on April 19, 2021.

Many meteor showers are caused by debris from a passing comet. For the Lyrids, the comet is named Comet Thatcher.

The comet was found in 1861 and takes 417 years to go around the Sun!

Thatcher is located in our sky in the direction of the constellation Andromeda. Its path brings it close to the Earth's, then takes it really far away.

The debris from Comet Thatcher is what enters Earth's orbit each year, to create the meteor shower.

Also the Lyrid meteor shower seems to make an 'outburst' or produce an unexpectedly large number of meteors, every 60 years.

The next Lyrids 'outburst' is due in 2042.

Watch the skies
MeteorPA
A single meteor shoots across the sky

There may be up to 18 meteors an hour to be spotted - it could even be more.

Back in 1982, a peak of 90 meteors per hour was recorded!

There are lots of different meteor showers which happen at different times of the year. They are named after the group of stars, known as a constellation, in which they occur.

What are meteors?
People_sitting-on-chairs-watching-Lyrids-meteor-shower.Getty Images
Are you sitting comfortably? These guys had the right idea when they sat down to watch the Lyrids meteor shower in Turkey

A meteor is a space rock that falls into the Earth's atmosphere and, as it falls, it gets very hot.

The rock gets so hot that a visible glow is created around it.

So, what we see isn't actually the falling rock - it's the glowing heat around it - racing across the sky!

When lots of meteors fall all at once around the same place, the glow of heat around them, gets brighter so we can see them.

This often looks like a shower of light in the sky.

The meteors we see have little to no chance of hitting the Earth - they are usually really small, from the size of a grain of sand to a small boulder, and burn up before they can reach us.

How can you see a meteor shower?
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Beginner's guide to astronomy

Once you know when a meteor shower is happening you don't need a lot of fancy equipment like a telescope, just a clear night with no clouds, warm clothes and some patience.

It's important to wrap up warm as you might be sitting still for a long time - don't get cold!

Get in a comfy position, perhaps lying back on a chair, so you don't strain your neck, turn off any lights you can and go to the darkest part of the garden.

Give your eyes about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness, then sit back, keep watch and enjoy.

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