Meteor Shower

18 August 2021

If you enjoy wishing on a falling star, August is your month. It is time for an annual meteor shower in North America.

They are officially known as Perseids. They seem to originate near the constellation Perseus, but can be seen all across the night sky. This year they peaked on August 11 and 12 but will still be around for a while. If you were lucky enough to be out and observing, you got a great view because the moon was only at 13% fullness, so the sky was nice and dark. They begin increasing in volume around midnight and then just before dawn are at their maximum of almost 100 per hour.

If you missed this month’s show, there will be more opportunities this year, though generally not as prolific:

  • October 21 – 22 – Orionids with about 20 per hour
  • November 17 – 18 – Leonids with about 15 per hour
  • December 13 – 14 – Geminids with about 140 an hour
  • December 22 – 23 – Ursids at about 10 per hour.

Meteoroids are objects in space that can be as small as grains of dust or as large as small asteroids. As this meteoroid rock enters a planet’s atmosphere, it is moving at quite a high rate of speed. The atmosphere creates resistance (drag) making the rock very, very hot. What we see is the glowing hot air as the object moves closer. When the rock hits the planet’s ground, it is renamed a meteor. When there are a number of meteoroids all heading towards us at once, we call it a meteor shower.

If you would like to try your hand at shooting photos of those shooting stars, here are some tips for a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

  • Select a night that is clear and as moonless as possible. Generally the moon disappears about 3:00 in the morning.
  • Reducing the brightness of the LCD screen will help as you adjust to the darkened sky.
  • It is difficult to hold a camera still for as long as it will take to get a good shot, so it is recommended that you use a tripod. Heavier tripods can reduce the chance of movement from the wind or footsteps. You can put some weight at the bottom like sandbags for more stability.
  • A telephoto lens will give you a narrow perspective and will provide fewer odds of getting a meteor in your sights. A wide-angle lens incorporates more of the sky and might be the better choice.
  • As mentioned, the less your camera jiggles, the better chance you have of getting a great shot. To that end you may want to use a self timer or a shutter release cable (without a self-timer) gives less chance of your finger pressing the shutter button to move the camera during the long exposure. If available, you can try using wifi to run the shutter from a mobile device.
  • Autofocus is not recommended. Take a test shot of a star and then review to see whether it is clear or fuzzy. They you can make adjustments to get the best focus possible.
  • You won’t know where a single meteor will streak across the sky, but you do know where it will originate, so aim for the appropriate constellation.
  • Exposure is going to be critical. Use the 500 rule that says divide that number by the length of your lens in millimeters to give you the amount of time in seconds to leave your shutter open.
  • Impatience is your worst enemy. Unless you have done this before, you will probably have to experiment and make adjustments along the way.

With these guidelines and some luck, you will get the photo of your career.

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