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The Lyrids offer up more than just a shower

April 23rd, 2009 · 1 Comment · Personal

I had the good fortune of the skies clearing up tonight around 3am – the past three days have been cloudy and rainy and I was giving up hope of catching the Lyrids metor shower during its peak period of tonight and last night. So I quickly launched Stellarium and typed Lyra into the search box – viola, it was high in the Eastern sky just waiting for me to gaze straight up into the heavens. Grabbed the folding chair and climbed out the window onto the roof of my garage and set up at the peak, which faces East so I can straddle the chair over the peak and just sit.

The Lyrids were supposed to have a falling rate of 10-20/hr and they didn’t disappoint, despite the rather poor viewing conditions as very thin clouds wisped in and out over the course of the hour or so I was sitting out there. Luckily there was no moon shining and making the conditions even worse. I racked up around 10-12 meteors – two of them I think I saw, you catch them out of the corner of your eye and when you turn to look they’re already gone so you question whether you saw them or not. 2 of the meteors hit at a shallow-enough angle to burn up over 2-3 seconds. Those are the best, even if they aren’t that bright sometimes.

However besides the main attraction, I also saw three satellites slowly working their way across the sky. At first I thought they were really high planes until I realized that planes don’t produce a steady light, you see their strobes blinking and that’s it. These objects were unblinking points of light moving steadily across the sky. Because daytime was only about 3 hours away, the sun was high enough on the other side of the horizon to light the satellites up for me to see. This happened to include the International Space Station, which passed by to the SouthEast. I had figured that’s what it was given that it was a very bright object in the sky that did not blink as it moved across it. However it wasn’t until later when I went back inside and checked that I could confirm that’s what I saw. This was my first naked-eye viewing of the ISS.

And the coolness didn’t end there! At one point a bright speck of light suddenly appeared towards the North, then dimmed, then brightened, then dimmed, then brightened again (but less so with each re-appearance) as it traveled across the sky. At first I though maybe it was a meteor skipping the upper atmosphere until I realized it was heading in the opposite direction from the radiant in Lyra. It petered out and disappeared after only about 20 seconds and 7-8 continually dimmer flashes. I remained puzzled until I was able to search online later and the best explanation I can come up with is that it was an Iridium flare. I can’t confirm this because flare prediction itself is still iffy, but it certainly fits the bill and video I was able to dig up matches what I saw.

So despite the fact that it was a little chilly out and I had to bundle up a bit with some gloves, a jacket and a blanket, the heavens put on quite an awesome show for me tonight!! 🙂

The next shower to come around are the Eta Aquarids, which peak exactly two weeks from the Lyrids.

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