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Shooting Stars: Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks November 17



Keep your eyes on the sky — NASA says next week’s Leonid Meteor Shower may be the best of its kind in years.

The meteor shower, which will peak on November 17th at around 1am PST (4am EST) over the Americas, coincides with the new moon phase. In other words, the stars will appear brighter and meteors will be easier to spot–and photograph.

Meteor shower photography takes a bit of planning and consideration, but we’ve summarized and compiled some tips and resources to start you off.

Where to Go

Check the Clear Sky Chart for your geographic area to see where and when the night sky is most visible. Various factors affect visibility, such as clouds, the position of the sun, and transparency of the atmosphere (affected by variable amounts of water vapor).

Avoiding light pollution, or excessive artificial light, can also increase the relative darkness of the night sky, and more heavenly bodies are visible. Head towards the desert, mountains, farmlands, or a clearing in the park–anywhere with fewer people and street lights– for reduced light pollution.

What to Bring

Most astrophotographers recommend at the very least:

  • A tripod
  • A wide-angle lens
  • A lens cloth to wipe off nighttime dew

If you’ve got it, bring:

  • A fisheye lens and/or a lens with f/2.8
  • A remote or cable release (this reduces vibration on the actual camera)

It’s also a good idea to dress warmly, pack a flashlight, bring a picnic blanket, and bring company.

What to Do

Aim towards the Leo constellation and Mars.

In general, a reasonably high ISO/ASA (around 800-1600), long exposure (around 30 seconds) and a shallow depth of field (around f/2.8-3.5) tend to do the trick.

Note that stars move during the night, so stars will streak naturally in long exposures.

Additional Resources

Check out the Wired how-to wiki for an overview of star photographs.

Spaceweather.com has a helpful meteor photo gallery in which several photographers included the settings on which they shot.

Astrophotographer Doug Murray also offers his film shooting tips, which can be applied to digital as well.

Dpreview.com also has a forum with helpful tips on shooting meteors, asteroids, and comets.

Happy shooting, and enjoy the view!

Image credit: Shooting Stars by *BZd*