Lyrid Meteor Shower

This week sees the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. A meteor is also know as a shooting star and look like a star shooting quickly across the sky. They are caused when particles of matter from space strike the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth moves through space very fast (approximately 110,000 kph). As the Earth moves, it collides with bits of debris floating around in space. When it collides, the particles of matter heat up due to the friction of particle hitting the atmosphere. Try rubbing your hands together really fast and you’ll feel the heating effects of friction. Now imagine this with something moving at 110,000 Kph!

Lyrid meteor as seen from the International space station. Credit: NASA

The Earth can hit a piece of matter at any time. They can be big and cause a very bright meteor (shooting star) or they can be small causing shooting stars that are not as bright. Sometimes the remains of a meteor can land on the ground! Most of the time though meteors are caused by small pieces of dust as small as a grain of sand. At certain times of year, Earth moves through areas of space that are more dusty than others. These are areas that comets and asteroids have passed through. When this happens there is a spike in meteor activity and this is called a meteor shower. This Month (April) the Lyrid meteor shower takes place. It is caused by dust left from a comet called C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

The meteor shower will be active from 16th April 2020 – 25th April and gradually build to a peak on the 21st April 2020. Therefore, the best time to view it will be the night of the 21st April but you can try and catch some meteors on the nights either side of that date. This year is a great year to watch it as the Moon will not be in the sky. You don’t need any equipment to watch the meteor shower. Find somewhere dark, with a good view of the sky and make yourself comfortable. A reclining deck chair is ideal. Also make sure you are really well dressed for the cold. A sleeping bag can be great for keeping warm. You can also have some snacks and hot drinks like hot chocolate to hand. After that just relax and enjoy the show! You don’t need to look any specific direction as meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. Try to allow your eyes to adjust to the dark for about 20 mins. Your eyes become more sensitive in the dark so avoid looking at any lights or phone screens as this will destroy your night vision.

You can expect to see a maximum of 18 meteors per hour but that depends a lot on conditions and luck. This is a really nice activity to do as a family if the weather is nice.

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