April is the time of year to see the Lyrids Meteor Shower. At its peak on the night of April 22 and the morning of April 23, it should bring about 20 shooting stars a minute. One of the most interesting features of the Lyrids is that many the meteors will leave a persistent trail. Also with this shower, there is always the possibility of an outburst with up to 100 meteors an hour.
Photos of a Lyrids Meteor visible through the trees courtesy of Rocky Raybell @ Flickr
Best time and location to view the Lyrids Meteor Shower
This meteor shower runs from around the 16th to 25th of April, but the peak viewing night will be on the night of April 22, which is a Saturday. Though the real peak starts at midnight and runs through to 5 am. Yes, meteor spotting is for night owls.
The name of the shower, Lyrids, comes from the constellation Lyra from where the shooting stars appear to originate in the night sky. Though the trick is not to look at that constellation itself, because the meteors will radiate out in all directions.
Lyra courtesy of Till Credner at Wikimedia
A new moon will rise as well in the early morning of the 23rd, but won't be in the right location or be bright enough to interfere with your shooting star spotting. But generally, for this shower, it is better to stay up late than it will be to get up early.
Times and locations around Australia on April 22/23
The best time is going to be the early morning and in the northern sky. The information below tells you the best spot in the sky to look in each city, but the shooting stars should be visible across the sky in that general direction.
Sydney: From midnight to dawn with the best time being 4 am in the northern sky with a 24 degree elevation
Melbourne: From 1 am to dawn with the best time being at 4 am, but with only a 20 degree elevation in the northern sky.
Brisbane: From midnight to dawn. Best time is 4 am at a 30.5 degree elevation in the norther sky.You should be able to see the shower without needing to get up high.
Adelaide: From after midnight until dawn. The maximum elevation will be at 23 degrees in the northern sky at 4:30 am.
Perth: From midnight to dawn with the maximum elevation occurring at 4 am in the northern sky. The elevation of 30.5 degrees will make it easily viewable even without a clear view of the horizon.
Viewing a meteor shower
Meteor showers are named after their radiant point and this can help you to find generally where to look in the sky. You can track the location of the constellation Lyra using a night sky app on your phone or tablet. I am currently using Sky Map, but there are many other ones that are similar. Remember though you will see the shooting stars across that portion of the sky in general, rather than specifically at the radiant point.
Photo courtesy of EarthSky at Wikimedia
For most meteor showers you need to go off somewhere away from city lights, usually with a good view of the horizon. The maximum height of the meteor shower above the horizon will be in the early hours of the morning and be around 14 to 30 degrees elevation, depending on where you are.
Turn off all lights, including your phone and let your eyes adjust for about 20 minutes. It is worth taking a chair so that you can sit down comfortably. Once you see one go past, you will start to see many more.
The Lyrids can produce some spectacular shooting stars producing bright fireballs that leave an ionised trail. Some years this doesn't happen, this year it is expected that there will be up to a quarter of the meteors doing this. Which means you might even have a chance to see these brighter meteors in the suburbs.
Photo of a Lyrids meteor fireball visible in a partly lit sky courtesy of Mike Lewinski @ Flickr
Photographing the Lyrids Meteor Shower
Photographing shooting stars is always a bit of a challenge. While a good DLSR or mirrorless camera is important the most important thing is to use a very fast lens. While a standards lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5, it is recommended that you use one with a 2.8 or better yet, a 2.5. Of course, if a fireball occurs then each a standard lens should do the trick.
Set up your camera on a tripod and use an exposure of between 10 and 30 seconds. The longer the exposure the more of the star field will be exposed. Remember to turn off your camera's screen so that the light doesn't affect yours or other people's night vision.
Photograph of star trails and shooting stars courtesy of Phillip Chee @ Flickr
Some people use an exposure long enough to get star trails as the earth rotates. The advantage here is you are likely to capture more than one shooting star in the photo, the disadvantage is that the photograph will be dominated by the star trails rather than the meteors.
The Lyrids is the first decent meteor shower of the year. The start will occur at Easter time, which is when many people are out camping. So stay up late or get up early while on your trip and see if you can see any in the night sky.