Stargazers across the northern hemisphere are currently gearing up to witness the oldest recorded meteor shower in history, known as the Lyrid meteor shower.
Chinese observations of this annual shower dates back 2,700 years, and although it is considered one of the more modest meteor showers with between 10 and 20 meteors per hour, it does occasionally experiences outburst of more intense activity. When it was first recorded in 687 BCE, for instance, the Chinese described it as “falling like rain” and in 1803, a newspaper in Virginia, USA, had this colourful account of the phenomena:
“Shooting stars. This electrical phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets.”
The Lyrid meteor shower takes place each year between April 16 and April 26, with peak activity occurring around April 22. Meteor watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Lyrid meteor shower should dress warmly, and look east towards the constellation Lyra, from where the meteors appears to radiate. This constellation can easily be found by identifying an asterism of stars known as the Summer Triangle which contains three of the 20 brightest stars in the night sky; namely Vega in Lyra, Altair in Aquila and Deneb in Cygnus.