Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

The Lyrids meteor shower should put on a show overnight

If you’re willing to rise early tomorrow morning then there’s the chance to see a meteor shower, known as the Lyrids, which may been responsible for a bright light seen recently over Russia. A dashcam…

A single Lyrids meteor captured during last year’s shower. Flickr/Mike Lewinski , CC BY

If you’re willing to rise early tomorrow morning then there’s the chance to see a meteor shower, known as the Lyrids, which may been responsible for a bright light seen recently over Russia.

A dashcam video captured a fireball in the sky over Murmansk and other cities in the country’s northwest Kola Peninsula over the weekend. Russian astronomer Viktor Troshenkov is quoted in some reports saying the bright flash was likely from the Lyrids meteor shower.

Video caption here

The Lyrids occur each year between April 16 and 25, with a peak expected overnight (April 22/23). It’s a fairly consistent shower and typically around 15 or 20 meteors an hour can be seen, although that number is generally a little lower from here in Australia.

This is because the shower’s radiant, that point in the sky from which the meteors all appear to radiate from, is low in the north for Australian observers.

To find that radiant look directly towards the north, near the bright star Vega, which is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra, the harp.

Looking towards north at 4am on Wednesday April 23 from Melbourne. If you are further west or east of Victoria, then Vega will be slightly higher in the northern sky. Museum Victoria

The Lyrids will seem to originate from a point just above and to the left of Vega. For those in the northern hemisphere Vega is much more prominent and can be found nearly overhead.

Beware the moon

This year, the Lyrids will also be competing with the last quarter moon, which occurs today. It is likely that some of the fainter meteors will be washed out by the moon’s light.

But the good news is that enough Lyrid meteors have been known to be particularly bright and can even leave behind trails that remain in the sky for a split second.

There have also been occasions when an outburst has occurred. The last was in 1982, when almost 100 Lyrids were seen each hour.

Unlike many things in astronomy, the intensity of meteor showers is unpredictable, so you won’t know what happens unless you go out and look.

A comet’s trail

The cause of the Lyrids is Comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun every 415 years.

The comet was closest to Earth in 1861, the year it was discovered, and it left behind a trail of debris.

It’s these tiny particles, as small as a grain of sand, that the Earth is now moving through. As the comet debris travels through Earth’s atmosphere at up to 75km/s, the intense heat produces the streaks of the meteor shower.

Astronaut Don Pettit captured the 2012 Lyrids meteor shower from aboard the International Space Station with the meteors shown burning up in the atmosphere. Flickr/NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, CC BY

An Aboriginal connection

The Lyrids may not be one of the most spectacular meteor showers for Australians, but it does have a long history here.

The shower is mentioned in the strong astronomical traditions of the Boorong clan from the region around Lake Tyrell, in north-west Victoria.

The clan no longer exists today as a separate entity, but they were a member of the Wergaia speaking people from the Kulin nations.

Mallee fowl kicking dirt to build a nest. Flickr/butupa, CC BY

For the Boorong, the bright star Vega was prominently known as Neilloan, the Mallee fowl. Neilloan is seen in autumn coinciding with the time the Mallee fowl start to build their elaborate nests.

The meteor shower is described as Neilloan kicking up the shooting stars in the same way that the earth-bound Mallee fowl are digging out their nesting mounds and kicking up sand and dirt.

The great thing about meteor showers is that all the equipment you need is warm clothing (if it’s going to be cold where you live) then simply find a comfortable spot, where you can lie back and look towards the northern sky.

And while you’re waiting for meteors, there’s great planet watching to do as well.

Saturn will be high overhead near the constellation of Scorpius, bright red Mars can be found setting in the west and Venus will be rising in the east as the brilliant morning star.

Join the conversation

10 Comments sorted by

    1. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Susan Nolan

      There is an observing chart at the following link. However, the NASA meteor flux estimator suggests we will be seeing 2-3 meteors per *hour* from the shower between 4 and 5 am on the 23rd.
      http://astroblogger.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/the-2014-australian-lyrid-meteor-shower.html
      However, I concur with Tanya and Mark that the sky will be ebautiful to watch, and you might catch an iridium flare of flare from the cosmos satellite while watching.

      report
    2. Tanya Hill

      Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy) at Museum Victoria

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Ian, thanks for the link to the flux estimator -
      http://leonid.arc.nasa.gov/estimator.html.

      Sky and Telescope predict the peak at 22nd April, 17h UT, corresponding to 23rd April, 3am AEST. Viewing at 4am gives a better chance for Vega to rise higher.

      http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/meteor-showers-in-2014/

      I'm always keen to find predictions of meteor shower peaks given in UT so that we have a better handle on what to expect here.

      report
    3. garybass

      Education IT Physics

      In reply to Tanya Hill

      To determine other sightings from where ever you may be located login to www.heavens-above.com
      Your latitude and longitude can easily be looked up from a visit to google maps or google earth

      Iridium flashes occur every night, international space station can be seen several times a week
      Enjoy!

      Timelapse apps for your (i)phone can record a pic every one or two seconds instead of 25/30 fps so far more economical than video.

      report
    4. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Tanya Hill

      Yes, although the peak occurs earlier than 4 am, the radiant is deeper in the horizon murk, so the best rates are seen later when the atmosphere and horizon don't get in the way as much.

      report
  1. Jim KABLE

    teacher

    I think this must have been the shooting stars shower I saw early one morning during my years in western Japan - within some 10 minutes I had counted twice that number of streaks of light. I made lots of wishes - all came true. (I was not wishing for money!)

    report