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Saturday, April 21, 2012



--"The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks on April 21-22," says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "We’re going to try to photograph some of these 'shooting stars' simultaneously from ground stations, from a research balloon in the stratosphere, and from the space station."

 Lyrid meteors come from Comet Thatcher. Every year in late April Earth passes through a stream of debris from the old comet, which has been bringing Lyrid meteors to our planet for at least 2600 years. Specks of Thatcher’s dust hit the top of atmosphere at 110,000 mph and disintegrate in a flurry of meteors. 

 Most years, the shower produces about 15 to 20 Lyrids per hour. This is a good year to look for Lyrids because the new Moon will create dark skies that favor sightings both from Earth and from Earth orbit.  

Aboard the space station, Astronaut/Flight Engineer Don Pettit is a prolific photographer and writer/poet. More of Don's experiences onboard the ISS are recounted in his online blog. His poetry is pretty far out as some were written in outer space. As the Space Station passes over North America multiple times on the night of April 21st, a network of all-sky cameras--some operated by amateur astronomers and others by NASA--will be recording the shower. Cooke encourages sky watchers everywhere be alert for meteors this Saturday night. 

Typical Lyrids are about as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper, so they’re good for beginners. And it's not unusual to see one or two fireballs when the shower peaks. A good time to look is during the hours after midnight, when the shower’s radiant is rising toward its zenith. Although the Lyrid meteor rate is usually capped at 20 per hour, better displays sometimes occur when Earth glides through an unusually dense clump of debris. 

In 1982, for instance, astronomers counted as many as 90 Lyrids per hour. Amateur astronomers who wish to help monitor the 2012 Lyrids are encouraged to download the Meteor Counter for iPhones. The app records meteor counts and reports the data to NASA for possible analysis. 

 Also, Cooke and colleagues will be "staying up all night" on April 21st to chat with the general public about the shower. Tune in at In honor of universal poetry month, astronaut Don Petit penned the following poem. 

Space is My Mistress/By Don Petit 

Space is my Mistress, 
and she beckons my return. 
Since our departure I think of you 
and yearn to fly across the heavens arm in arm. 

I marvel at your figure, 
defined by the edges of continents. 
You gaze at me with turquoise eyes, 
perhaps mistaken for ocean atolls. 

You tease me to fall into your bosom, 
sculptured by tectonic rifts, 
only to move away as if playing some tantalizing game. 

Time and time we turn together, 
through day, and night, and day, 
repeating encounters every 90 minutes with a freshness, 
as if we have never seen our faces before. 

We stroll outside together, 
enveloped by naked cosmos, 
filled with desire to be one. 
So close, you sense my every breath, 
which masks your stare through visor haze. 
We dance on the swirls of cloud tops, 
while skirting the islands of blue. 

You know my heart beats fast for you. 
Oh, Space is my mistress, and when our orbits coincide, 
we will once again make streaks of aurora across the sky. 

 Source: NASA Science. Image: Don Pettit

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