Head out early tomorrow morning between midnight and dawn to catch the Lyrids Meteor Shower.
The Lyrids radiant is close to the constellation of Lyra (a harp). The constellation rises just after midnight in the southern hemisphere and moves across the northern sky. The Lyrids meteor shower is best viewed after midnight o well before sunrise on 23/24th April. Point your feet towards the northern sky and look about 45 degrees above the horizon. You should see a really bright white star there – this is the blue white star Vega. This shower is caused by the Earth’s atmosphere passing through the dusty pebbly debris left over from Comet Thatcher and has been known to produce spectacular meteors.
So what is a meteor? As a comet (which is a large ball of rock and ice from the outer Solar System) passes by the Sun they become quite heated up and they begin to shed gas, ice, dust particles and rocks which we see as the comets tail. This is left behind as the comet continues on its journey around the Sun. If the comet’s orbit intersects that of the Earth’s orbit some of material strikes our atmosphere and we see a meteor.
Comet Thatcher also known was discovered by an American amateur astronomer A.E. Thatcher in 1861. This comet was the brightest in over half a century and both head and tail were visible together in broad daylight. Every spring for at least the past 2,700 years, Earth has passed through the trail, thrilling countless sky watchers with the sight of flaming dust and grit. In 1803, it was reported that it looked as if the entire sky was alight with flaming stars.
The Lyrid meteors strike our atmosphere about 95 kilometres above the earth and at speeds of around 49 km/sec or 175,000km per hour and can burn up in some pretty amazing fireballs.
Typical meteoroids which is the name given to meteors before they hit the atmosphere – range in size from grains of sand to walnuts. The bigger they are, the brighter. A meteor that actually hits the ground – a rare event fortunately is called a meteorite.
So if you want to have a look – find somewhere away from street lights and other bright lights where you can see clearly to the north and east. head out early in the morning either just after midnight – although the Moon will make it harder to see some of the dimmer meteors o around about 3:30 to 5 a.m. toting a thermos of hot chocolate, tea or coffee. Make sure you’re suitably rugged up for the weather and get yourself all comfy in a reclining lawn chair, banana lounge or under a blanket or sleeping bag. No special equipment required. Look towards the North and enjoy the beauty of the early morning sky and see how man meteors you can see.