One of the oldest known annual Meteor Shower (Ulkapatha Warshawak) , known as Lyrids, will be visible in Sri Lanka until April 25, says Director, Astronomy and Space Science Unit, University of Colombo Prof. Chandana Jayaratne.

In a press release, he added that the meteor shower will peak on the night of April 21 & 22.

Sri Lankans will have a rare opportunity to watch a magnificent Meteor Shower originated from the Lyra constellation April 21 and April 22, if and when they watch the northern sky above 60 degrees from the horizon between 11.30 pm to 5.30 am but the peak of the spectacular heavenly event will be in early morning Wednesday.

For Sri Lanka, the number of visible meteors will be highest at 5.00 am and expect to see about 10 meteors per hour in the next two days. At that time the shower’s radiant (the point in the sky from which meteors appear to originate) will be about 60 degrees above the horizon, Saraj Gunasekara, Principal Research Scientist, Astronomy Division of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute of Modern Technologies said.

“The Lyrids are a medium strength shower that usually produces good rates for three nights centred on the maximum. Lyrids will be active from April 16 to April 30. The Lyrid meteor shower reaches its maximum activity on the night of April 21-22,” Mr. Gunasekera said.

Meteors are small specks of cosmic debris colliding with Earth’s atmosphere at tremendous speed and burning up on entry. Meteoroids (the term for a meteor prior to entering Earth’s atmosphere) are mostly symmetry in origin, he added.

Prof. Jayaratne says the meteor shower is best seen during early morning hours before the sunrise together with Jupiter, Saturn and Mars close to the overhead and Mercury above the eastern horizon.

Meteors of the Lyrids appear to come from the constellation of Lyra and from a single point in the sky – the radiant – that lies just above the bright blue star Vega, the release read.

Between April 16-25, a few meteors can be seen per night, but on the night of April 22, the Earth will encounter the densest part of the meteor stream. With that, the rates of meteors increases, some 5-20 per hour or so, Prof. Jayaratne says. “After 17th, the Moon will be out of the way allowing us to see the full display unhindered,” he added.

This period is favourable for sky observations as air pollution caused by human activities has become minimum due to coronavirus pandemic and is resulting in very clear skies, the release read further.

“The time period from 4.00 am to 5.30 am is likely to be most productive, especially towards the end of the morning shift. At this time the radiant position will be almost overhead towards North-Eastern skies. Locate the radiant and look away from it rather than directly at it. You should be able to spot meteors flying in the opposite direction,” Prof. Jayaratne stated.

The shooting stars we see are the remains of a comet named C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). The dust that the comet left behind in its last perihelion passage around the sun in May 1861 is swept up by Earth and burns up high in the atmosphere. These meteors are traveling at 48 km/s. The comet itself has an orbital period of 415 years and will next be back in the inner solar system in the year 2280.  

We recommend a garden chair to avoid neck strain caused by standing and looking upwards for long periods. Switch off all lights and allow about 20 minutes for dark adaptation of your eyes.

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