Many of us will be marking our calendars for April 22 and 23 in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Lyrid meteor shower as it reaches its peak.
Running in its entiriety between April 16 and April 25 every year, these meteors travel through the atmosphere at approximately 107,000mph and explode about 55 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Nicknamed “Lyrid fireballs”, these cast shadows for a split second before leaving smokey debris trails that linger for minutes behind.
The shower is visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and offers stargazers a chance to see up to 18 meteors per hour during its peak.
It occurs when the ionised gas in the meteors’ trail burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the glow that can be seen streaking across the night sky.
Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth’s atmosphere travelling 49 km/s (110,000 mph) and disintegrate as streaks of light.
But don’t worry if you miss out on seeing the Lyrids, as there are plenty of other opportunities to see the sky full of streaks of light.
Here, we have compiled a complete guide on when, where and how you can see all the meteor showers of 2022.
What exactly is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower occurs when Earth passes through the debris stream occupying the orbit of a comet or, in simpler terms, when a number of meteors flash across the sky from roughly the same point.
Meteors are sometimes called shooting stars, although they actually have nothing to do with stars.
Perspective makes meteor showers appear to emanate from a single point in the sky known as the shower radiant. The typical meteor results from a particle – the size of a grain of sand – vaporising in Earth’s atmosphere when it enters at 134,000mph.
Anything larger than a grape will produce a fireball, which is often accompanied by a persistent afterglow known as a meteor train. This is a column of ionised gas slowly fading from view as it loses energy.
Meteor, meteoroid or meteorite?
A meteor is a meteoroid – or a particle broken off an asteroid or comet orbiting the Sun – that burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, creating a “shooting star”.
Meteoroids that reach the Earth’s surface without disintegrating are called meteorites.
Meteors are mostly pieces of comet dust and ice no larger than a grain of rice. Meteorites are principally rocks broken off asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and weigh as much as 60 tonnes.
They can be “stony”, made up of minerals rich in silicon and oxygen, “iron”, consisting mainly of iron and nickel, or “stony-iron”, a combination of the two.
Scientists think about 1,000 tons to more than 10,000 tons of material from meteors falls on Earth each day, but it’s mostly dust-like grains, according to NASA, and they pose no threat to Earth.
There are only two recorded incidents of an injury caused by a meteorite. One of these instances saw a woman bruised by a meteorite, weighing eight pounds, after it fell through her roof in 1954.
Meteor showers in 2022
Eta Aquarids meteor shower
Also known as the Eta Aquariids, the Eta Aquarids is the first of a pair of meteor showers that originate from Halley’s Comet, the most renowned cosmic body of them all. In 2022, the Eta Aquarids will peak between May 5 and 6.
The bad news for those in the UK is that the shower is more impressive in the Southern Hemisphere, where observers can witness around 20 to 30 meteors per hour during its peak. Meanwhile, stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere can only expect to see half as many.
The shower produces shooting stars when the Earth passes along Halley’s debris stream, which, in turn, creates tiny particles that burn in the upper atmosphere.