Psst. It’s not a secret but we love meteor showers here at StarCircleAcademy.com. So much so, that we frequently schedule expeditions to capture meteors in interesting dark sky locations. The latest expedition is in a few days. But if you look through our catalog of events, (e.g. the latest and this one) you’ll see we’ve been hunting meteors for quite a long time.
The things you want to happen for a meteor shower include a non-intervening moon. Showers peaking on or near full moons are usually disappointing. Then, of course you’ll will want good weather, and an interesting foreground. However there is no cookie-cutter approach to getting that to all work out. For the Geminid meteor shower, it’s useful to know that Gemini rises in the East a little after sunset and sets in the west around sunrise. If you want to get the MOST meteors, you generally want to shoot after midnight and before dawn (so southwest), and thus southwest is the direction you’ll want the darkest skies. But if spending midnight to dawn somewhere is not practical for you, consider finding dark skies facing the south East instead.
Meteors CAN appear anywhere in the sky, however, so even when we suggest dark skies to the south, do not let that stop you from finding dark skies in any direction. The interesting foreground you want may only work with a Northern view.
We describe at length how to find dark skies in this article and in the discussion consider alternatives, such as distance, weather, and goals. In that article we also link to a resource to help you find dark skies. But do not be mislead: not all dark skies are created equal and there is really no substitute for having been in a location a time or two to know how “dark” is “dark.” Understand that weather conditions significantly affect the darkness of skies. Dry, arid places as a rule will be darker than moister climes.
Once you have landed on a place, you need to know how to shoot those meteors – so we have an article for that, too! And once you get those little streakers, you will want to be confident that they really ARE meteors (most of the time they are not). So if you want to know that what you got are indeed meteors, please read our article on identifying those streaks accurately.
To fully enjoy a meteor shower we suggest the following preparations:
- Dress appropriately. Assume it will be 20 degrees F colder than the stated overnight low. Not because it will be colder, but because with no sun to warm you at all plus little activity it will FEEL colder.
- Bring a fully reclining chair or sleeping mat so you can lay down and look straight up (or toward the darkest skies).
- Bring a blanket or sleeping bag and a pillow.
- Bring some hot (and/or cold) beverages in a thermos and some snacks.
- Set up you camera with an equatorial mount to track the skies, or just point it toward the dark. Use an intervalometer to automatically take photos (using the settings we suggested in this article – don’t want to read that: try ISO 6400, maximum aperture, 20 seconds or less).
- Bring a friend. You will be encouraged to hear your friends going OOOH and AAAAAH when you do – and if nothing else, you can keep each other awake and share stories.
- Be sure your family knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back (if they aren’t coming with you).
There is always more, of course, but ultimately we suggest that when possible, you consider joining us when we schedule a workshop or field expedition.
Happy space debris hunting to you!