The annual Perseid meteor shower is already underway although rates will be very low until the peak of the shower around August 11-13th. A bright Moon will hamper the peak this year but this shouldn’t stop you venturing out when skies are clear. Moonlight will make fainter meteors difficult to see but fireballs and brighter ones will still be readily visible.
To maximise Moon free viewing near the peak of the shower, try observing a few days before and 12th, starting from the 9th August. The best times to head out are in the early morning when the Perseus radiant will be at greatest elevation in the East, although you don’t need to look at the radiant to see meteors and they’ll be visible from all directions.
Although rates are lower at the moment, now is also a great time to look up due to dark of the Moon conditions and darkening skies in general as we slowly leave behind the permanent summer twilight we experience in the north of Scotland.
Observing the Perseids
You don’t need any special equipment to view a meteor shower, in fact binoculars or telescopes will just narrow your field of view. Grab a deck chair or camping mat and (if it’s cold) a warm blanket, prepare a hot drink and lay out under the darkest conditions you can find. It’s an excellent activity to do alone, with family and friends, or if you have children they’ll love an excuse to get outside for some after dark play.
Put away any lights or bright mobile phone screens and simply look up and wait. Remember it takes up to 30 minutes for your eyes to fully dark adapt and any exposure to bright lights will start the process all over again. If you need a light, red LEDs or touches are best for preserving you night vision.
For optimal viewing, head out late at night after the Moon sets or in the darkness of the pre dawn sky., when the radiant is highest in the sky.
Photographing the Perseids
If your have a DSLR camera and tripod, or a suitable phone app like NightCap, you could try capturing some meteors with this rough guide.
- Firmly attach your camera or phone to the tripod.
- Disable autofocus and manually focus on some bright stars (make them as small and pin point as possible in your viewing screen)
- Set an ISO range somewhere between 1000-3000 depending on the capabilities of the sensor. Mid 1000s is a good middle road.
- Turn off noise reduction or you’ll get big delays between each shot.
- Point your camera at a high and clear part of the sky.
- Shoot long exposures ranging from 10s to 30s, or simply use a remote shutter to take long manual exposures. Note: don’t go crazy with very long exposures or you’ll get amp glow from the sensor.
- Take lots and lots of shots and be patient!
If your camera has a time-lapse feature you can automate the shooting process and tell the camera to continually shoot 30 second exposures over a long interval. Just watch out for dew forming on the lens if conditions are cold. Some hand warmers stuffed into a sock wrapped around the lens will solve this particular issue.
Good luck and clear skies!