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Looking back at the Lyrids

Can you spot the meteor? Last weekend's Lyrid meteor shower produced lots of memorable pictures, as you can see in SpaceWeather.com's meteor gallery. But in Jeff Berkes' photograph, taken at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the shooting star is just one little brushstroke in a cosmic masterpiece.

The Milky Way's spray of stars stretches across the backdrop, and a gnarled tree stands in the spotlight that Berkes created using a technique called "light painting." It's the same technique Berkes used to great effect in last October's picture of the Orionid meteor shower.

Berkes said last weekend's Lyrid shooting session wasn't exactly a walk in the park: "Being out that night, things got a little hairy ... literally! A black bear approached us around 11 p.m. one night, but left without any issues. ... I saw a bunch of Lyrids that night, but only captured a few faint ones with my camera. I used a Nikon D3 DSLR. It was great to view the Lyrids under a new moon and from one of my favorite national parks."

The timing couldn't be better: This week is National Park Week, and Saturday is celebrated as Astronomy Day. You can double the celebratory spirit by going skywatching in a park this weekend. To find out what's going on in your neck of the woods, check out the Astronomical League's event listings, or check in with your local astronomy club.

Where in the Cosmos
Jeff Berkes' look at the Lyrids served as today's "Where in the Cosmos" picture puzzle on the Cosmic Log Facebook Page. It took only a minute or two for Nanette Broyles to spot the meteor streak and figure out that the picture was taken during the Lyrid meteor shower. To reward her quickness, I'm sending her a pair of Microsoft Research 3-D glasses, plus a 3-D picture of yours truly. Keep an eye on Facebook for the next "Where in the Cosmos" picture in a week. And if you haven't spotted the meteor yet ... look above the tree, just to the right of center.

More meteor shots:


Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log's Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.