The annual Perseid meteor shower will be visible tonight through tomorrow morning. This year is promising twice the rate of meteorites, 2 or more a minute (versus the typical 1 per minute).
The meteors will appear to come from the area of the Perseus constellation, in the north-northwest sky, near the horizon, from two to four “hands” up, but will be visible across the sky. If you have city lights nearby, get as far from them as possible for best viewing.
There are many affordable software apps you can get that will help locate the Perseus constellation. I recommend Sky Map for Android phones. On desktops, the free Stellarium is a great app too.
The moon will obscure most of the show until it sets, at 1:09AM tonight (Friday morning), so be prepared for a late (or very early) start!
If you’re interested in photographing the event, here are some tips.
- Use ISO 1600-3200. The meteorites aren't bright enough to appear in most cases with lower ISO settings, unless your lens can stop down to f/1.8 or f/2.
- Use a tripod (that’s a requirement)
- Acquire a remote shutter release (or you can use your camera’s timer feature - 2 seconds is good)
- Live view, or shutter lock (settings will depend on the model of your camera, refer to your manual)
- Manual focus – manually focus your lens on the brightest light in the sky you can see, then use a small piece of tape to make it stay there. You can plan ahead for this one, and use a marker or tiny drop of fingernail polish to mark the true “infinity” focus point on your lens – they’re almost never truly focused at the infinity mark that most lenses have.
- Use Manual (M) camera mode – for aperture, use your lowest f/stop (1.8, 2, 2.8, 3.5 or 4, the lower the better).
- Shutter speed – depends on the focal length of your lens. Take 500 and divide by your focal length (24mm, 35mm, 40mm, etc). That will give you the number of seconds you can shoot to avoid star trails. A 50MM lens can do 10 second exposures w/o trails (500/50mm=10 seconds). Star trails are cool, but only when they’re of significant length to not look like camera shake – that takes a number of long exposures, taken consecutively, and layered with software. Long exposures almost guarantee you’ll catch something in every other frame you shoot.
- The shorter the focal length, the better. A 14mm will capture much more than a 50mm. With a 100mm, you can almost forget about it, unless it’s a fast lens and you’re shooting directly into the apex of the event.
- Just keep swimming shooting. You don’t know when meteorites will appear, so just keep shooting, as much as you can. If you wait to see one to fire the shutter, you’ll miss it.
- Bring an empty, large memory card. You’ll get hundreds of shots if you’re diligent, so you’ll want plenty of room for files.