Freelance writer, science student and incurable smart aleck.
Nothing can quite compete with a meteor shower. These celestial wonders have astounded man since times long forgotten. Many a myth owes it origin to these cosmic light shows, some which still hold a fair amount superstitious sway.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Meteors, or 'shooting stars' (if you're so inclined, although they are not in any way stars) are the debris and space dust from comets or asteroids, that are burning up upon entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Many cultures and ancient civilisations held beliefs as to the meaning of such events. Some African tribes have viewed them as a representation of a god. The early Europeans viewed meteor showers as ominous, the harbingers of danger and destruction. Some also believed these atmospheric dust shows to be lucky, and grant wishes (a view that has carried on to this day.)
Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we experience six, sometimes seven highly visible meteor showers per year. The Lyrids meteor shower occurring on the morning of April 22nd this year, is caused by Comet Thatcher and appears to radiate from between the constellation Lyra and Hercules (hence the name.)
Constellation Lyra Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Lyrid shower averages 10-20 rather bright meteors per hour, although bursts of up to 100 have been recorded previously. The shower is best visible in the hours between midnight and sunrise on the morning of the 22nd.
Locating the Lyra constellation can be done through a number of means. There are a number of free star map apps you can download (yay for technology!) Alternatively you may have a star map lying around in old astronomy text books. There are also a number of websites that offer star maps and diagrams of the locations of both Lyra and Hercules, to assist you in navigating the night sky.
Meteor showers are best viewed outside the glare of lights from major cities. The darker the place, the better. It's also a good idea to pack some snacks, a blanket, some seats and a thermos of hot chocolate (because in all honesty....why not?)
It's also worth mentioning that in addition to the shower Venus will be visible in the North sky. Mars and Saturn are visible in the West as well, all three rising just prior to dawn.