The Lyrids is the first meteor shower of the year fully visible in Australia and runs from April 16 to 25 with the peak being on the evening of the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd. Expect 1 shooting star every 3 minutes with this meteor shower and if you are lucky you might get one that leaves a beautiful bright dust trail that lasts for several seconds.
Photos of a Lyrids Meteor visible through the trees courtesy of Rocky Raybell @ Flickr
About the Lyrids Meteor Shower
The Lyrids, like most meteor showers is named after the constellation where the shooting stars appear to originate from, in this case the constellation Lyra. However the shooting stars will appear across the sky radiating out from that constellation.
Photo courtesy of EarthSky at Wikimedia
Meteor showers are very predictable because most are from dust clouds left behind by the the tail of a comet, in the case of the Lyrids, it is comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher (or just Thatcher to his friends) which makes its way around the sun every 415 years. The meteor shower occurs when Earth runs into this dust cloud.
By the way, yes you read it right, shooting stars are just particles of dust. If you see a fire ball then it will be made by something the size of a grain of sand. They burn so brightly because of the speed in which they hit the Earth's atmosphere. When you have coloured shooting stars, it is because it contains some traces of metals.
Normally the Lyrids are not the most exciting meteor shower, but occasionally, about once every 60 years, you get a meteor storm with 100 shooting stars per hour. Unfortunately this is not predicted for this year. But the level of intensity of meteor showers can be a little unpredictable, after all they are caused by clouds of dust floating around in space, so sometimes you get an expected burst of shooting stars.
Viewing the Lyrids Meteor Shower
Most shooting stars are fairly faint, so you can't see them unless you escape the city and suburban light pollution. This can include heading off to the countryside while some people head to beaches, but as Autumn takes its grip on Australia, this is a less pleasant option than during summer. I know of people who head up to tops of mountains to ensure a full view of the night sky.
The general rule for the timing of meteor showers is between midnight and coming of the predawn light. You do need to be careful of the moon as well, as it can cause problems with your viewing. This year, the setting waning moon will be in the sky during the peak viewing days, but you should be able to see some of the brighter shooting stars in the eastern sky as the moon sets in the west.
One good thing about the Lyrids is that it can produce the occasional brighter shooting star or even a fireball. Some can be bright enough to be seen in the suburbs and certainly, some should be bright enough to be seen as the moon heads towards the horizon.
As already said, light is an issue, not only because of light pollution in the sky but also because your eyes need about 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness. So the strategy is to head out into the countryside, get rid of all sources of light, which includes campfires, phones, camera screens and smartwatches. Sit down, or better yet, lie down, and watch the skies.
Knowing the radiant point of the meteor storm is not that important, because this is where the shooting stars will appear to come from and not where they will actually be, which is across the whole sky. For the Lyrids, the epicentre will be to the north at the shower's peak.
Viewing times around Australia
The details below are for the peak of the meteor shower on the evening of April 22 and the morning of April 23. The shower will run for several days, from the 16th to the 25th there will be few shooting stars on those days. The main difference on different days will be the time that the moon sets and its location in the sky during the best viewing times.
In Sydney the peak time to watch the meteor shower is at 4 am, with the sun rising at 6:23 am and the moon setting at 9:56 am.
The peak time is the same in Melbourne, 4 am, with the sun rising at 6:53 am and the moon setting at 10:31 am.
The best time to view the shooting stars in Adelaide will be at 4:30 am with the sun rising at 6:45 am and the moon setting at 10:21am.
Perth has a similar peak time as Sydney and Melbourne at 4 am, and the sun will rise in Perth at 6:42 am and the moon will set at 10:19 am.
Brisbane is the same, with the best time to view the meteor shower being 4 am, and the sun will set at 6:09 am and the moon will set at 9:35 am.
Photographing the Lyrids
When it comes to night sky photography, photographing a shooting star is challenging and requires great equipment, the right settings and a good deal of luck. First of all, you will need a DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and a tripod. Try and use the fastest lens that you have. While most standard lenses are f/3.5 you will be better off using a f/2.8 or f/2.5 lens.
You need to set up your camera on a tripod and configure it to take photos automatically. Shooting stars move too fast to see one, point your camera and shoot, instead, you have to keep taking photos with the hope that one will pass by your camera. Later you will need to go back and search through all the photos hoping you managed to snap one.
Photo courtesy of theilr @ Flickr
The exposure length is important. This is going to be between 10 and 30 seconds. The longer the exposure the more of the star field you will get and the more chance you will capture a shooting star. But if the exposure is too long the background stars will make it hard to see the shooting star. Ideally, you should play around with your camera's settings beforehand to see what seems to be a nice balance. Then, of course, let your camera take photos while you sit back and watch the sky yourself and enjoy the meteor shower.
With the light from the moon obscuring some of the shooting stars, the Lyrids will probably be a little disappointing this year, but worth checking out, and you never know, there is always the chance of a few fireballs and even an outburst.
"Brisbane is the same, with the best time to view the meteor shower being 4 am, and the sun will set at 6:09 am and the moon will set at 9:35 am." I am thinking you meant to say that the sunrise will be at 6:09am. Good article.