Quadrantid Meteors – probably no sighting tonight

Posted by @ 8:33 pm on Thursday 3rd January, 2008.
Categories: Astrostuff, Weather

Preparations have been made and permission to view the shower has been granted by my better half, but it looks like it'll be scuppered by the weather. The forecast for here is for overcast skies and snow, it's 8/8 cloud cover right now so it doesn't bode well for the early morning.

For those lucky enough to get clear skies, the show should be good, with a short peak (<2 hours) of maximum activity around 06:40, when rates should hit over 100/hour.

Where to look? Well, the meteor trails appear to radiate from the "obsolete" constellation of Quadrans Muralis, so look a fair number of degrees away from there. My favoured place to aim the camera at would be the Plough, or whatever you prefer to call it, as it's easily framed and difficult to miss. Others would, no doubt, disagree. Here's a link to a helpful chart and here's a link to a NASA Vodcast. Of course, it'll be a good shower to just watch the good old-fashioned way, without the hassle of demisting/defrosting the camera, keeping the batteries warm and cursing the low-flying planes circling around EMA.

So, what's needed for observing this shower?

Well, you'll need to be properly insulated. Plenty of warm layers, and some spares, it gets damned cold at night this time of the year if you're in this neck of the woods (52 degrees North). Fur-lined boots are brilliant if it's frosty, and if you're mad like me, sticking your booted feet in a cardboard box can keep a breeze off your feet as well as providing insulation from the ground. A comfy chair's great for sitting, but I've managed to get myself frozen to mine a few times so be careful when you stand up after a long frosty rest, you'll feel like an eejut walking around with a deckchair stuck on your back.

I would advise taking hot drinks, or a means to make them (I take the Jetboil and supplies so that I can enjoy the luxury of a fresh cuppa). If you're partial to snacks, be aware that things like chocolate will melt in your pocket, or freeze to the consistency of a dinner-plate if you leave then out in the cold.

As for camera settings, well, aperture is everything, just shoot wide-open, in RAW format if possible. There's no point in going for long exposures if the target is only in field for a second or so. Besides, longer exposures mean longer star-trails, unless you're using a tracking mount. Go for a wider lens rather than a tele, so that you can frame a familiar area of the sky. A tripod is more-or-less mandatory, and a remote release is more useful than using a self-timer. Keep an eye on the effect that the cold is having on your camera, demisting and defrosting tends to be needed more often than you think, and condensation on the inner elements of the optics can be a pain to deal with. One useful tip - manually focus your lens on infinity and paint a couple of alignment marks on it before you go out into the dark. Focusing in the dark can be a nightmare, especially with autofocus lenses that focus beyond infinity.

One last thing: If you're dependent on your car, FFS keep your de-icer with you. It's no fun being frozen out of your car so early in the morning with a long walk home through the snow while carrying your gear. It's even worse when you can see the de-icer through the frozen window, just lying there taking the p155 out of you.

Sounds like fun, eh? Duncan's tried it, have a shufty at this.

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Stop Press! I've just realised that I've missed something... a planisphere is another useful bit of kit, they're available cheap from Amazon and the like. Be sure to get one that's suited to your latitude.

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2 Responses to “Quadrantid Meteors – probably no sighting tonight”

  1. Great advice, BG, as well as the useful comments that you left for me. I may just have been a lucky first-timer, as it was The Plough/Big Dipper/Sycle/Ursa Major. Also, that I could just walk out of my parents' house and set up the camera rig on their hardstanding after switching off the outside light.

  2. BG! says:

    Cheers for that, Duncan.

    I've just edited the post to include details of a useful bit of kit that I missed out. It might be of interest to you.

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