The Lyrid meteor shower 2022 peaks this weekend
Find out when the Lyrid meteor shower is happening, what direction you need to look and how you can spot a Lyrid meteor tonight.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower is set to peak in activity over the next few nights, making for a great naked-eye stargazing spectacular.
Provided you know where and when to look, if you gaze up at the night sky you should be able to see a Lyrid meteor during the upcoming period of peak activity.
But what is the Lyrid meteor shower, and how can you see it? In this guide we'll show you how to see it from the UK, or from wherever you happen to be observing.
What is the Lyrid meteor shower?
The Lyrid meteor shower occurs every year around 14 - 30 April, and in 2022 the best time to see a Lyrid will be between 22–26 April, with peak activity occurring on the night of 22/23 April.
Lyrid meteors occur when Earth passes through the debris spread around the orbit of comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.
The Lyrid meteor shower will reach a peak on the night of 22/23 April, when a zenithal hourly rate of 18 meteors per hour can be expected.
The zenithal hourly rate is quoted as the number of meteors expected to occur over an hourly period, assuming perfect conditions and the shower’s radiant position – the area of sky from where the shower trails appear to emanate – directly overhead.
In practice, visual hourly rate tends to be lower.
When is the best time to see the Lyrid meteor shower?
In 2022, Earth will pass through the densest part of the Lyrid stream at 20:00 BST (19:00 UT) on 22 April.
At this time the Lyrid radiant, located near Vega (Alpha (α) Lyrae), will be low, but as the night progresses the radiant’s altitude increases, which helps matters.
When planning to observe a meteor shower, it makes sense to pay attention to what the Moon is doing, as a bright full Moon will hamper how many meteors you can see.
For the 2022 Lyrid meteor shower, the Moon will be at last quarter on the morning of 23 April, but because it’s spring the angle made by the ecliptic with the eastern horizon in the run-up to dawn is shallow.
As a consequence, the Moon won’t really interfere with the 2022 Lyrids, rising as dawn is well underway.
This would normally mark the end of a meteor watch anyway, so for 2022 at least, the Moon will not be an issue.
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How to see a Lyrid meteor
To observe the Lyrid meteor shower:
- Find a place away from any stray lights
- Give yourself at 20 minutes in total darkness for your eyes to dark adapt
- Avoid looking at bright light sources such as a mobile phone
- Use a garden recliner or an astronomy chair that avoids you straining your neck to look upwards
- Stare up at an angle of about 60˚, two-thirds up the sky from horizon to zenith
- Look in any direction, but preferably the one in which the sky looks darkest.
- Aim to observe for periods of at least 30–60 minutes between short breaks.
For more info, read our meteor shower guide.
What is a meteor shower?
We see a meteor in the sky when a small particle - on average about the same size as a grain of sand - vaporises in Earth's atmosphere. The path of light across the sky is known as a meteor trail.
Most meteor showers are associated with comets, but some are linked with asteroids, such as the Geminid meteor shower, which is associated with 3200 Phaethon. As a comet repeatedly orbits the Sun, it spreads dust around the orbit.
Earth passes through these dust streams as it orbits the Sun, causing particles to vaporise in the atmosphere. When this happens, the number of trails we can see increases.
We experience peak activity of meteor showers when Earth is passing through the most dense section of the stream.
Meteor trails appear to come from a specific area of the sky, which is known as the 'radiant'. This slowly moves over the duration of the shower.
The constellation in which peak activity appears to occur is what gives each meteor shower its name. You might have heard of the Perseid meteor shower, for example, which shows peak activity when the radiant is in the constellation Perseus.
For more on this, read our guide What causes a meteor shower?