Thursday night to Friday morning will be one of the special dates spread throughout each year when skywatchers can catch a meteor shower as a multitude of eruptions potentially erupt into darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet comes into contact with the debris field left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids circling the sun. These tiny particles burn up in the atmosphere, leaving trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any meteor shower happens at approximately the same time each year.
One of the first major spring meteor showers is the Lyrids. They have been active since April 15th and run until the 29th, but will peak from April 21st to April 22nd, or Thursday night and Friday morning.
Meteors originate from a comet called C/1861 G1, also known as Thatcher. It is a morning shower, best viewed in the early hours before dawn in the Northern Hemisphere, although some activity is visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
It will peak when the moon is two-thirds full, which can limit visibility. If you don’t get a good show overnight, the Lyrid rain is predicted to be much stronger in 2023, when the moon will be a small crescent, allowing up to 18 meteors per hour to be visible.
And there are more meteor showers to come. Visit The Times list of major rains expected in 2022 or sync our curated collection of major space and astronomical events to your personal digital calendar.
How to see a shower
Best practice is to go out into the countryside and stay as far away from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas can have the luxury of just hanging out. But city dwellers also have options.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains an area dedicated to dark skies. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they are located,” said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. To see as many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after arriving at the viewing location. This will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lie down and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes, and times when the moon is sparse or absent are best. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes are not needed for meteor showers and will in fact limit your view.