By Robert Bernstein
On Tuesday night we headed up to Camino Cielo to watch the Perseid Meteors. Here are some photos I took as we lay back in our lawn chairs and looked up at the sky.
I consulted with our local astronomy wizard Chuck McPartlin in advance. He is the Outreach Coordinator for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit astronomy club. He warned that this was probably not going to be a great year to watch the annual Perseid meteor show. But first it is good to understand what are meteors and where do they come from.
On any random night of the year, you can go to a dark place and see a few meteors streak across the sky each hour. These are random bits of space dust and debris that enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up.
But there are also annual meteor "showers" like the Perseids. These are due to the Earth plowing through the remnants of a comet that has left a trail of such dust and debris. These remnants can last many years after the comet has passed by.
In the case of the Perseids, the comet that is the source of the debris is called Comet Swift–Tuttle which was discovered independently by Swift and Tuttle in July 1862.
Chuck McPartlin explained that the best viewing of meteors is between midnight and dawn because that is the time of the night when the viewer's location on Earth is plowing into the debris head on.The meteors seem to "radiate" from a single point in the sky. This is a kind of illusion like the illusion of railroad tracks seeming to converge in the distance. But the direction of this "radiation" is very real and consistent. These meteor showers are named for the constellation that the meteors seem to radiate from. In this case, the constellation Perseus.The problem this year is that on the optimum viewing night for the Perseids the moon would be coming up during the optimum viewing hours. And the moonlight will overwhelm the dimmer light from the meteors. Chuck also explained that on the best Perseid night there may be fog during the optimum viewing hours. So, he suggested it might be best just to look before midnight and not lose too much sleep! And that is what we did!Here are a few of my photos showing meteors streaking across the sky. This one shows the full field of view of the camera:
And this shows the same image, but zoomed in just to show the meteor trail:
When you lie on your back and look at the sky you will be surprised to see many man-made objects dominating the sky. Some are satellites orbiting a hundred miles up or more. Others are airplanes between a mile and six miles up. Like this:
Here is another full field view:
And a zoomed in view:
Some of the meteors began or ended out of the field of view like this:
My tripod is not very solid, so some images were spoiled a bit by a gust of wind during the long exposure:
One of the last meteors we observed was exceptionally bright and crossed much of the sky, continuing beyond the camera's field of view:
I learned a lot recently by photographing Comet NEOWISE. I used most of the same settings as I used for that.
I set my camera ISO to 800. I set the focus to manual and set it at infinity. And I used the longest exposure that my camera would allow, which was 30 seconds. I also used a two second timer delay so that I could press the shutter button and let the vibrations settle before it actually started taking the photo.
When our housing crisis is over and we are settled in a new home I do plan to do more searching for a more solid tripod. An earlier search was frustrating: My current tripod has a very well-designed mount that allows me to put the camera off and on quickly. The newer ones I tried had very cumbersome mounts.
I will look forward to future meteor showers that will have better viewing than this. But this was still an enjoyable learning experience!