If you're bored of binge-watching TV series and movies you already saw, this week may provide an altogether more unique experience of visual entertainment. The Lyrid meteor shower is set to light up the skies after sunset until Saturday 25 April. Its peak is estimated to occur on Tuesday and Wednesday night. During this time, the 2020 installment of the shower is expected to produce between 10 and 20 meteors per hour, with around a quarter of these liable to leave lingering incandescent trails behind them in the night sky.
Lyrid is one of the oldest meteor showers recorded on earth, with references in China dating back to more than 2,700 years ago. The meteor shower is comprised of particles given off by Comet Thatcher, which orbits the sun once every 415 years. It last passed by the earth in 1861 and won't return until 2276, but each year the Earth passes through the path of the comet providing the chance to catch its debris as it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere.
Although rarely as spectacular as the August Perseids or December Geminids, the April Lyrids are the first large meteor shower of 2020, with a smaller happening having occurred in early January. In 1922, a rate of 96 meteors per hour was recorded for the Lyrids and in 1982 between 90 and 100 per hour. The rate at which they fall and are able to be seen is totally unpredictable, so it's always worth keeping an eye open for them.
Unlike 2019's Lyrid shower, this year the waning moon will allow a better view. This week, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will also group together in the sky and will visible in this pattern to the naked eye, providing a potentially thrilling backdrop to the 'shooting stars'. This rare grouping of the planets won't happen again for a couple of years. Although the comet Thatcher's particles will be flying into the upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour, this is actually a relatively slow speed at which a meteor shower occurs.