The annual Lyrid Meteor Shower has been observed for the past 2700 years. Every April, hundreds of meteoroids crash into Earth’s atmosphere, creating stunning displays of ‘shooting stars’ and last weekend they will reach their peak. It is visible from around the world, but best seen from Europe.
The Lyrid Meteor Shower got its name because the radiant lies in the constellation Lyra. The debris come from the orbit of the comet Thatcher that orbits the Sun every 415 years in a long, elliptical orbit. These meteoroids are sand and pebble sized bits of rock that were once released from their parent comet. An interactive website explains that some comets are no longer active and are now called ‘asteroids’.
Most meteors are just pieces of dust or rock smaller than a grain of sand, they slice into the upper atmosphere at speeds of more than 100,000 mph. This speed is the reason they burn and form spectacular trails of fire around 50 to 70 miles above us.
Sky-watchers over the years have reported hearing strange popping, hissing and rustling sounds when a meteor passes overhead. Researchers have discovered that bright pulses of light can create audible sounds far away from the source by heating ‘dielectric’ materials – including clothing, grass, dark paint and leaves. The sounds are a result of electromagnetic energy from the meteor that has travelled to the viewer miles away, and converted to photoacoustic waves.
The best of the display was on April 22 morning with up to 20 meteors streaking across the sky every hour before dawn. The Lyrid meteors will be visible streaking across our skies continuously between 16 and 25 April. The best destination to see the meteors is in rural areas away from city lights. The best chance to catch them in the sky is to look East.