Watching the Perseid Meteors

Posted by @ 4:51 pm on Tuesday 14th August, 2007.
Categories: Astrostuff

I spent Sunday night and Monday morning outside watching the skies. The weather conditions were good (plenty of cloud-free sky until 03:00) but there was a fair amount of light-pollution to contend with, and the local bat population was out in force too.

Visually, my count (of meteors, not bats) was 124 in about 5 hours, but I could only see about a quarter of the sky from my place. This works out to approx 100/hour, in line with the IMO predictions. They were mostly standard trails that just fade out, but there were some fireballs that were bright enough to cast shadows and which ended their existences with audible bangs. Cool stuff.

I ran off about 200 shots with the Nikon D50, trying various settings, managed to catch a few but the photo quality isn’t too hot, and I didn't catch any of the fireballs. I shot most of the pics in RAW mode, so I was able to enhance/butcher them. Samples are below.

I reckon I'll have to play about with the camera settings a bit more before the next meteor shower. I got my best pics with a manual 30s exposure at max aperture whatever focal length I used (18-55mm zoom, the standard kit lens), ISO 200, all other settings were as per the camera defaults. The main pitfall, I found, is that the camera takes about 25s to save the RAW image after the shutter closes, this takes up nearly half of the available viewing time, and typically the best meteors fizz past while the camera is in save-mode... it's as if the damned things know what's going on, and are determined to be unrecorded. Next time, I'll try using shorter exposures and rely on post-processing to get the image right.

On the bright side (pardon the pun), the ultra-cheapo tripod (given to me by a workmate a few years ago) worked a treat, no shake at all, it's just a tad fiddly to set up with the camera pointing straight up, but that's nothing that I can't fix by knocking up an extension/spacer. The only other thing that would make life easier is a 90-degree viewfinder adapter... I'll try eBay for that, I reckon.

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