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Tutorial:
Photography meteor showers


Photography meteor showers

  1. Introduction
  2. Make a map of the sky
  3. Equipment
  4. Camera and intervalo meter setting

1: Introduction

Note:
This is a very fast writing because I want to have it up on the homepage when there is still something to se of the Lyrid Meteor Showers!

There are several meteors shower every year and they come back about the same date, year after year. These meteors are just small grains or dust from space that come into our atmosphere. They are always out there but these meteor showers are leftover from comet tails that once had passed us and cross the Earths orbit. The density of dust are higher in this old tail area and it could come many meteors per hour.

Here you can read more about meteor showers:

  • Meteor shower, Wiki
  • If you scroll down on the Wiki page you will find a list of meteor showers. When I'm writing this it's he end of April and you see that the Lyrids are going on now. I will use the Lyrid as an example, but the procedure is almost exactly the same for the others, just other dates.

    Here you can see how it looks when I tried to catch the Perseid Meteor Showers 2015:

  • Perseid Meteor Showers 2015
  • We saw more than one really strong meteor, they are called a Bolide or fireball, but no one of them I got to catch on photo.

  • Bolide https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Bolide
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    2: Make a map of the sky

    Maybe you can find a sky map were the meteor showers are in the newspaper or you can draw one by yourself. I will not go in details about how you can do it, but I use the free Skychart (or CdC, Cartes du Ceil) software.

    If you don't have it already you can download it here:

  • https://sourceforge.net/projects/skychart/
  • Of course you can use other sky maps too.

    In the earlier Wiki page, click on the meteor showers you want to see, in this tutorial the Lyrids. In the list to the right you find the coordinates were the meteors looks to come from, the radiant point. Right Ascension, RA= 18h 08m and Declination Dec = 32o. You find it in the constellation Lyra, RA and Dec are a coordinate system used by astronomers.

    Now if you use a sky chart program, setup your location (observatory place) ant the date and time when you plan to do the observation. Some meteors showers has it maximum concentrated to one night and others last over many nights.

    In the wiki page you can find which time at the night it's preferred to look at it. I normally start taken photos at 23 normal time or 00 when summer saving time (11 pm or 12 pm). Then let the camera go as many hours the batteries left or when the sky light up in the dawn.

    Here you can read how I use Skychart to find comets and get ideas how to use it:

  • ../tutorial-find-comets/tutorial-find-comets.html
  • ../tutorial-comet-photography-planning/tutorial-comet-photography-planning.html
  • This is an example of how a sky chart could look, you see all objects, even them under the horizon. I have painted the yellow information on top of it, CdC print:

    Lyrid Meteor Shwers 2017, CdC print

    (click on the image to get a full resolution photo in a new window)

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    3: Equipment

    This is relatively easy to do so you don't need very expensive equipment. Most DSLR cameras if not all will make it, if you don't have a DSLR, try to use what you have first and don't buy new stuff. Here is the list of what I have:

  • Canon EOS 6D: https://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Canon_EOS_6D
  • Zenitar 16 mm f/2,8 fish eye lens:
  • Tripod:
  • Intervalo meter:
  • Anti dew: Project: Heating band
  • This is only a short summary over my equipment.

    The camera:

    Most DSLR cameras will be fine I think. But it's much easier if there is some way to do several photos by automatic (time lapse function). Some cameras has it built in. In my case I use an external intervalo meter to control the camera. Don't forget to have extra batteries, they will not last too long in the cold.

    The lens:

    Because you never know in advance where each meteor will show up there is wise to have a wide angle lens. My 16mm fish eye lens cover 180 degrees, but anything between 90 and 180 degrees will be fine. You want to collect as much light as possible but at the same time have a sharp image. Most lenses works better if you set down the aperture to f/4, a zoom lens maybe don't even have this, then set it to wide open.

    Intervalo meter, long time exposure control:

    I have an aftermarket intervalo meter, not very expensive, 40 Euro. If you are lucky your camera has this built in. It could also be called a time lapse function.

    Tripod:

    You don't need any motor driven mount for this. Just a stable tripod will be enough, the focal length of the lens is short so it's not any heavy demand. It should be high enough to let you see the display when you set up the camera setting.

    Anti Dew:

    I always had problem with dew on the lenses when doing astrophotographing. Now I have built a heating band that I wrap around the lens. It's wiser if you buy a over desk heating band, they are not expensive. This problem depends very much on were you are, maybe you don't get this problem and then no need for an anti dew equipment.

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    4: Camera and intervalo meter setting

    This is how I set up my equipment, your setup could be different. It depends on equipment and darkness of the place among other things.

    Camera:

    • Setup the display to only light up a short time or nothing after every photo:

      It will drain your battery if not limit the display time.

    • "B" exposure mode:

      I control my exposure time from an external intervalo meter.

    • Image quality, both RAW and jpg in highest quality:

      If you plan to do a time lapse movie it could sometimes be easier to have it direct in jpg format, maybe even lower resolution.

    • ISO set to 800 *:

      Even maybe ISO 1600 in very dark places.

    • No mirror lock:

      It's not possible in my case with an intervalo meter to control it.

    • No noise reduction:

      You loose a lot of time if you you use this, dark frame subtraction in camera.

    • Block the viewer:

      In a DSLR camera it can enter light from backside into the sensor.

    Lens:

    • Aperture set to f/4 *:

      My fisheye is not sharp at f/2.8.

    • "B" exposure mode:

      I control my exposure time from an external intervalo meter.

    • Manual focus mode;

      My lens is already only a manual focus lens, if you have an automatic focus lens, set it to manual mode.

    • Use a air blower to clean it from dust:

      Even the camera house.

    *
    It's the aperture and ISO setting that give the brightness of the meteors, not the exposure time. Because the meteors only last a part of a second.

    Intervalo meter

    • Set the intervalo meter to 20 seconds exposures:

      You will not want to have the exposure time to short because the you lose a lot of time between each photo. To long is not very good to with a digital camera. test values from 10 to 60 seconds and see the difference. If you later want to make a time lapse movie of it 20 seconds could be good for a 16mm lens, a 32mm lens maybe 10 seconds is better, increase the ISO or the aperture.

    • Set the delay between each photo to 7 seconds:

      You must have a delay between each image to let the camera download it to memory card, but not to long.

    Direction of the camera:

    • In my case I often have the direction 40 to 90 degrees east or west of the radiant point:

      If pointed against the radiant point they just show up as points, sideways they have long trails.

    • With my 180 degree fish eye lens I point it about 40 to 60 degrees above horizon:

      But sometimes also towards Zenith.

    Total exposure time:

    Let the camera go as long there is something to see, maybe from 23 to 03 (11 pm to 3 am). But you must know that your camera maybe only have a life time of 100,000 exposures. Three hours will give about 400 exposures of twenty seconds.

    When you have decided what setting of the camera you will use. Take at least 30 dark images, that's images that had equal setting in exposure time and ISO and at the same temperature as when the photos was taken. The lid (lens cover) should be on the lens because this is dark images!

    If you find some astronomy words hard to understand, visit my Astronomical Dictionary and you maybe find an answer:

  • Astronomical Dictionary
  • Update:
    The Lyrid comet shower night 2017:

  • The Lyrid comet shower night 2017
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