The Lyrids Meteor Shower in April

The Lyrids Meteor Shower occurs from April 16 to April 26 every year. Meteors are also called “shooting stars”. The source is the comet C1861 Thatcher. A.E. Thatcher of New York on April 15, 1861. Carl Wilhelm Baeker also found the comet without knowledge of Thatcher’s discovery. It is a long period comet and is not expected to return until the year 2276. It is most intense on about April 22.

It is named Lyrids because the meteors always appear to point to the constellation Lyra. Man has been observing the shower for more than 26 centuries, making it the oldest meteor shower.    

The meteors of Lyrids seem to be coming from the star Vega in the constellation Lyrids, but it is an optical illusion. The star Vega is a zero magnitude star. It is one of the three bright stars of The Summer Triangle, which includes Deneb and Altair.

Vega is also the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and the fifth brightest star in the night sky. It is 25 light years away. The constellation Hercules is close by.

The meteors travel at the speed of 110,000 miles per hour. Most of the meteors are somewhat dim, but a few are as bright as Venus. Their average magnitude is 2.4. About fifteen per cent of the meteors leave a visible trail. Usually there are only 5 to 20 meteors per hour. But in 1982 as many as 90 meteors per hour could be seen in Florida and Colorado. 1922 and 1945 also had a surplus of meteors, 96 and 112 were counted respectively. Another outburst like that is not expected until the year 2040, but one might occur sooner.   

And in 1803 the rate of the meteors was estimated at 700 per hour. The meteors were described as filling the sky: 

“…From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets.”  

The Lyrids Meteor Shower will not have the light of the moon interfering on April 22 during its peak. Warm clothing and a blanket are important toenjoy any meteor shower properly. And the farther away from the city lights the better. The constellation Lyra, the radiant, rises in the northeast at 10 p.m. The highest number of meteors are usually observed from 3 a.m. until sunrise.

There is also a meteor shower called the June Lyrids that is active from June 10 to June 21 and peaks from June 14 to June 16. It typically has ten to twenty meteors per hour, but since 1980 the average has dropped to one per hour. The average magnitude is almost 3. It was discovered on June 15, 1966 by S. Dvorak in California.