Lyrid meteor shower 2023: How to see a stunning shooting star tonight
Conditions are looking favourable this year for one of the oldest meteor showers.
The Lyrid meteor shower is an annual event that has captivated stargazers for centuries.
The Lyrid meteor shower is known for producing bright, fast-moving meteors that can be seen across the night sky, and it is one of the oldest known meteor showers, with records dating back over 2,700 years. And with the Eta Aquariids in May having less than favourable viewing conditions (peaking at the same time as a full Moon), it's worth getting outside to get your fix of shooting stars this April.
To make sure you get the most from the clear skies, be sure to check out our astronomy for beginners' guide and our full Moon calendar. For a full roundup of this year's meteor showers, we’ve got all the dates listed in our meteor shower calendar.
When can you see the Lyrid meteor shower 2023 in the UK?
The Lyrid meteor shower is active between 16-25 April, with peak rates on the night of 22/23 April.
The best time to observe the Lyrids is during the early morning hours, just before dawn, when the radiant is high in the sky.
The shower occurs annually, in mid to late April.
Where to look
The meteor shower is named after the constellation Lyra, as the meteors appear to originate from this area of the sky. This is the radiant, the location from where the meteors appear to originate.
“As darkness falls, the star Vega is low above the northeast horizon, gradually climbing in altitude to be virtually overhead before dawn”, says veteran astronomer and BBC Sky At Night presenter Pete Lawrence.
Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.
But you don't need to look directly at the radiant to see the meteors as they will be visible across the whole sky; just try to get as wide a view of the whole sky as possible.
“Look approximately two-thirds up the sky (60° altitude), slightly away from the radiant position – trails will appear longest around 90° from the radiant,” says Lawrence.
Although considered a summer constellation, Lyra is actually visible for most of the year.
Observing the Lyrid Meteor Shower: Viewing tips
The best time to observe the meteor shower is in the early morning hours before dawn, when the constellation Lyra is high in the sky.
“To get the best views, find a dark area away from streetlights, and avoid looking at artificial lights (including mobile phones!). Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adapt,” says Lawrence.
“No Moon interference in 2023 means this year’s Lyrid peak is very favourable. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for the Eta Aquariid shower, which peaks on the morning of 6 May.”
You don't need any special equipment to observe the meteor shower, just your eyes and patience.
- Meteors appear to originate from the radiant (the constellation Lyra) but can appear in any part of the sky, and meteor trails will look around 90° from the radiant.
- Get away from light pollution. In the UK, night temperatures on the 22/23 are predicted to be mild (but wet), so waterproofs are a must. If you live in an area without light pollution, an alternative is to turn the indoor lights off and just look out of an upstairs window.
- If you can, lie back in a reclining chair and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. After a while, you'll become more accustomed to seeing the meteor trails, as they streak across the sky.
- Try not to look at other bright sources of light – including your phone – while you're meteor-spotting, as this will interfere with your natural accumulated night vision.
- If you need to check something on your phone, use a red filter. Because the rod cells in our eyes are not sensitive to red light, it doesn’t interrupt the accumulated night vision - this is why so many backyard astronomers use red filters.
- Similarly, if you're using a reference book, use a red-light torch (or make your own) to illuminate the pages.
How many meteors will we be able to see?
The number of meteors visible during the Lyrid meteor shower can vary from year to year, but on average, you can expect to see around 10-20 meteors per hour during the peak of the shower. However, this number can be affected by various factors, such as weather conditions, the time of night, and the amount of light pollution in your area.
“On this night [22/23 April], if conditions are perfect, you’ll be able to see around 18 meteors per hour,” says Lawrence.
“Meteor shower activity is quantified by Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR), measured in meteors per hour. A shower’s ZHR assumes an overhead radiant, as well as perfect sky conditions. Anything short of these requirements lowers the visual hourly rate, which is the actual number of meteors seen,” explains Lawrence.
Where do the Lyrids come from?
The Lyrids are created when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, a long-period comet which orbits the Sun once every 415.5 years. It last made its closest approach to the Sun (reached perihelion) in 1861. It was discovered on 5 Apr 1861 by AE Thatcher, hence the designation.
As the Earth passes through the stream of debris, the small pieces of rock and debris enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up, creating a streak of light in the sky.
“Usually sparsely populated, streams can become denser towards their core. Particles the size of a grain of sand from within the stream vaporise when they enter Earth’s atmosphere, producing streaks of light we call meteors”, explains Lawrence.
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“The particles are on parallel orbits around the Sun. When they enter our atmosphere, our perspective makes it look as if they emanate from a small area of sky called the shower ‘radiant’”.
The Lyrids are known for their bright, fast-moving meteors that can leave persistent trails in the sky.
History of the Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Lyrid Meteor Shower has been observed and recorded for thousands of years. Chinese records from 687 BC mention "stars falling like rain" during the month of April, which is likely a reference to the Lyrids. In Chinese mythology, the Lyrids were seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.