The Lyrid Meteor Shower returns once again

Stargazers were dazzled by the Lyrid meteor shower last night, which produced up to 18 meteors each hour streaking across the sky. The celestial display hit its peak on the night of April 21 and was visible until early this morning, April 22. Meteor showers, or shooting stars, are caused when pieces of debris, known as meteorites, enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 43 miles per second, burning up and causing streaks of light. The Lyrids takes its name from the constellation of Lyra the Harp, where the shooting stars appear to originate from.

The meteors are pieces of debris falling from the Thatcher Comet, which is expected to return to the inner solar system in 2276, after a 415-year orbital period. Tania de Sales Marques, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich explained: ‘Comets are basically dirty iceballs that heat up as the comet approaches the sun, releasing dust and gases into space, and if the Earth, as it moves along its orbit around the sun, encounters these clouds of dust, then we get a meteor shower.’

She told the PA news agency last night: ‘In order to see a meteor shower one must be somewhere shielded from city lights. ‘The moon is in its waning crescent phase which means that we will have a nice dark sky. ‘We might see up to 18 meteors per hour and maybe even the occasional fireball.’

Those waiting to catch a glimpse of the meteors were also able to spot Vega, which is Lyra’s brightest star. Ms de Sales Marques added last night: ‘To observe the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower, we should look to the right of Vega once it has risen in the north-east direction after 8pm. ‘However, we might get a better chance of spotting meteors later on at night.

‘Vega will have moved across the sky towards the south and will also be higher up, making it easier to find it.” The Lyrids occur between 16-25 April every year so even though we’ve passed the peak of the shower, you may still be able to see some shooting stars this evening.