How and when to watch the Lyrid meteor shower

The Milky Way and Lyrid meteors falling through the sky. Credit: PA

The Lyrid meteor shower - considered to be the oldest known shower - is set to dazzle the night sky with up to 18 meteors expected each hour.

The celestial display is expected to peak in the early hours of Saturday morning and will be visible all across the sky.

Here's what you need to know to catch a glimpse of starry skies.

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

Meteor showers, or shooting stars, are caused when pieces of debris known as meteorites enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 43 miles per second, burning up and causing streaks of light.

The Lyrid shower takes its name from the constellation of Lyra, where the shooting stars appear to originate from.

These meteors are pieces of debris falling from the Thatcher Comet, which is expected to return to the inner solar system in 2276, after an orbital period of 415 years.

A plane passes by as a man stargazes at Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire as the Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak. Credit: PA

When can I see it?

This year the Lyrids started on April 14, two days before a full Moon, and come to a peak on 22-23 April, two days before the last quarter moon, so conditions are unfavourable.

But Jacob Foster, astronomer from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: “The meteors will spread out across the sky, so simply facing to the north-east on the night of the 22nd should be enough to see a few for yourself.

Where is best to watch from?

Up to 18 meteors will be visible per hour when the shower is at its peak.

As with all meteor showers, in order to see the Lyrids you will need to find a dark site with an unobstructed view of the sky.

The number of meteors people could see will depend on a variety of things, from the time of night to the level of background light.

“You won’t need any kind of specialist viewing equipment, just clear skies and warm clothes", Mr Foster said.

A meteor is seen during the Perseids meteor shower over the Cotswold Water Park near Cirencester. Credit: PA

What if I miss the display?

If stargazers miss the display, or simply have not had enough of exploring the sky, there will still be plenty to look out for as Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn and the Moon line up along the horizon on Sunday.

The best viewing window is between around 5am and 6am, just after the planets rise above the horizon, but just before the sun follows them.

The best time to see the planets on Sunday. Credit: PA Graphics

Despite appearing from Earth to be lined up, these types of alignments – sometimes known as planetary parades – occur only from our perspective here on the Earth, and are not actually lined up in space.

The planets will be visible with the naked eye, and no specialist equipment is necessary.

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