Have you ever caught a falling star? With the peak of the Delta Aquariid shower during Wednesday night’s peak and the most prolific Perseid meteorite shower more prominent in August, now is a good time to practice finding and photographing ̵6;”shooting stars.”
Be aware that rainy weather tends to become stronger after midnight when your location is well on the night side of the Earth, but clear skies are just as important.
Here’s everything you need to know to catch a falling star or two.
When is the Delta Aquariid meteorite shower?
Occurring from July 12 to August 23, the Delta Aquariid shower peaks in the early hours of Wednesday, July 29. It is one of the longest-lasting showers of all, with some the slowest “shooting star” – walk at a comfortable pace of 26 miles / 41 kilometers per second. However, you can look at the few nights around the date and see so many shooting stars, so now is a good time to start researching it. Expect about 10-20 “shooting stars” per hour.
Minor meteor shower, Alpha Capricornids, is also reached Wednesday through Thursday, which could add five “shooting stars” per hour to the mix.
When is the Perseid meteorite shower?
The peak nights for the Perseids, the most famous summer shower in 2020, are the nights of Tuesday, August 11th to Wednesday, August 12th and Wednesday, August 12th. August to Thursday, August 13, although the few nights on each side are almost good.
However, the Perseids run from July 17 to August 24, so you can see them now. Expect about 60 “shooting stars” per hour.
Equipment you need to take a photo of a meteor shower
You need a manual DSLR or a mirrorless camera to capture meteors. The most important thing is a manual camera that allows you to manually control the focus, ISO, aperture and shutter speed; you will be shooting long exposure images for 30 seconds.
You also need a wide-angle lens to capture as much of the sky as possible at night, and a powerful tripod to keep your camera stable. A lockable shutter release cable is really helpful.
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You need a light and dark night. If it’s cloudy, forget it – this technique doesn’t work. The easiest way to catch a shooting star is to align a shot of the night sky – preferably something beautiful composed of interesting foreground (barn, building, tree, mountain …), but that’s not essential. Once you’ve prepared the shot, and taken the test shots until you’re happy with it, then set your camera to keep taking the same photo over and over again. You can even “set and forget” and go back inside, to return an hour or two later to collect the SD card.
Int no looking for a beautiful, white line – which is an airplane or a satellite. Nor should you capture many “shooting stars” in one photo unless you’re luckily lucky.
Your goal is to photograph something like this:
Camera settings for meteor shower photo
Here are some basic points to remember; use them as a reference point from which to experiment, as the environment, and the light levels from which you choose to shoot will make all the difference:
- Set a lens for infinite focus.
- Use a wide angle lens (about 18mm works well).
- Set the aperture to about f2.8 (or as low as possible), select ISO 800 or ISO 1600, and use a shutter speed of about 25-30 seconds.
- Always shot in RAW as well as JPEG.
- Take the same shot 200 times.
- Turn on no lights while shooting.
- Do not touch or cut your tripod while shooting.
Being away from any light source or urban light pollution is helpful, but you will also be able to catch bright meteors from an urban garden.
At the end of the shot you can simply scroll through your SD card on a computer and see if you’re caught “shooting stars” in any of your frames.
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By producing 50-200 almost identical photos of the night sky you would have also done the basic work for a “star of a star” photo (see here), so why not produce one of these, hopefully one or more “shooting stars?”
The free StarStaX software allows you to drag and drop all your photos into it, from which it produces a beautiful image of a star. Above is the type of photo you should create, though note that you need to have your camera oriented north to get those concentric circles. That’s going to work reasonably well for the Perseids, though maybe not the Delta Aquariids.
Drying “shooting stars” requires patience, but photographing them is pretty easy.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.