Lyrid Meteor Shower 2020: how to see shooting stars in UK skies this week - and when the shower will peak

Stargazers in April are in for a treat when the Lyrids meteor shower rolls into Earth’s skies for its annual display

Members of the York Astronomical Society prepare to view a meteor shower in 2015 (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

The shower is not one of the year’s most spectacular, but can still provide those looking skyward with upwards of 20 shooting stars per hour.

Here's everything you need to know about it:

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What are the Lyrids?

Satellites, planes and comets transit across the night sky under stars that appear to rotate above Corfe Castle (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers, with records dating back 2,700 years. The ancient Chinese are said to have watched Lyrid meteors falling "like rain" in the year 687 BC.

The Lyrids are caused by the interaction of the Earth’s atmosphere with the dust trail left by the Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

When particles of debris enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up, producing a trail of light across the sky.

Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher only orbits the sun every 415 years, but occasionally, specific planetary arrangements can steer the dust trail into Earth’s path, intensifying the shower.

This happens roughly every 60 years, and while it won't be the case in 2020, observers could still be treated to some ‘Lyrid fireballs’ - brighter meteors that can even cast shadows for a split second and leave behind a trail of glowing ionized gas.

How to see them

The Lyrids should be visible with the naked eye, dependent on a couple of factors.

Weather plays a big part, and with April skies often clouded over, spotting the meteors might be easier said than done, and those living in an area with minimal light pollution will have increased chances of spotting a fireball.

Those living in built-up areas would normally be advised to travel to less populated spaces if they really want to see the shower, but as the coronavirus pandemic rolls on and social distancing measures remain in place, this is not something anybody can justifiably do this year.

If you're able to venture out into your garden to spot the show, wrapping up in warm clothes is recommended, and you should allow up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the night sky.

There will be an added advantage to stargazers this year, with the peak of the shower lining up with a new moon, meaning minimal light pollution from our planet's only natural satellite.

When to see them

The Lyrid meteor shower takes place between 16 and 25 April, but will peak - be at their most dramatic - on the evening of 22 April.

The Lyrids are so called because they appear to radiate from the constellation of Lyra, and the shower will be at its most active once this "radiant" has risen - around 9 to 10pm in the north-east of the sky.

However, looking directly at it may cause you to miss the more spectacular meteors, and Lyrids can actually show up in any part of the sky.

How ‘spectacular’ will it be?

Relative to other meteor showers on the astronomical calendar, the Lyrids are one of the less dramatic displays, but they can still offer up an average of 20 meteors per hour.

That’s nothing compared to the shower of 1803, which delivered 700 meteors an hour. That’s about one every five seconds, and the shower has been known to have dramatic outbursts.

No such outburst is predicted for 2020, but it is a hard thing to pinpoint, so you never know.