Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower in Regina

Crop from photo below, highlighting many-coloured fireball over Regina, SK   © SB
For the past two nights, I've tried to photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower from my back deck in Regina, Saskatchewan.

This approach has several advantages:
  • No driving required;
  • The deck is large, with comfy chairs;
  • It faces north, and we live near the north edge of the city;
  • It's near the kitchen, in case of a Scotch emergency.

However, there are drawbacks: 
  1. This is not a Dark Sky Preserve. (see #3 and 4.)
  2. There was an awesome Supermoon this week — full and bright, glaring over my house to create a grey glow amidst all the moon shadow in the backyard;
  3. Our local street lights cast a vivid orange tungsten hue over everything; 
  4. Although Regina, SK, is a small city, its light pollution is intense; this extends north beyond Regina Beach and south past the Highway 39 turnoff to Weyburn, east beyond Indian Head and west far past Moose Jaw. That's a corridor more than 150 km long! (Try the DarkSkyFinder for your neighbourhood);
  5. The Perseids' peak and mine don't coincide... Theirs comes between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., when the constellation Perseus rises high in the night sky; mine is significantly earlier.

Fireball/Meteor, above, in context, over the roof of my garage., shortly before midnight, Aug. 11, 2014.
The star by the © symbol is Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga;
the constellation Perseus is at right.  © SB

But, sometimes I've had luck with backyard photography, and I've captured interesting star and northern lights photos from home.

My favourite photograph from this week's at-home experiment with the Perseid meteor shower, above, captured a brilliant fireball streaking west from the Perseid radiant towards Ursa Major. This meteor glows brightly in successive shades of the colour spectrum, from its pink-orange head to green-blue tail. And lest I be accused of photo manipulation — yes, I do... Sometimes. In this case, I shifted the photo's white balance cooler to compensate for Regina's tungsten hue, aka.light pollution. (see #1, 3, and 5, above.) But unretouched on the camera's LCD screen, this fireball flared a perhaps more dramatic red and green.

This satellite might look like a meteor shooting west of Cassiopeia,
but a series of shots track it across the sky.
About 10 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014.  © SB

As for shooting, I set my camera to Interval Mode with long exposures, and just let it go... Constant shooting is great for distinguishing air planes, satellites and general space junk from meteors, as the former will track a path across the field of view over a series of shots, while meteors will flare in only one. My shutter speed ranged from 20 seconds to four seconds, with the best results at the shorter end. (The super-long exposures overwhelmed the delicate and brief meteor flashes with their excess capture of dark night.)
And the meteors? My camera caught a few; I saw a few more. (Perhaps six the first night; three, the next.)

I was surprised to see more meteors the evening before the major shower — between 10 p.m. and midnight on Aug. 11 — than on the hyped night, Aug. 12. But it wasn't a surprise that I got crisper photos when I set the tripod down on the path, rather than up on the deck itself... (Note to self...) I also took many photos of the stars... Capella and Polaris. And the constellations: Ursa Major, Casseopia, and Perseus. And got some not bad shots of air plane lights, too...

Some of my satellite shots almost look like meteors, but air planes with their blinking lights — which appear as rows of dots in my long-exposure photos — are unmistakable. (To see which satellites are overhead, or whether the International Space Station is visible, check Heavens Above. There are apps to track and identify regular air traffic, too.)

As for this light streak in Perseus, it's an air plane. During the long exposure,
the camera's sensor caught its lights blinking over and over again.
(Casseopeia is the sideways W in the upper right.)
11 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014. © SB

And this crisp slash of white above Casseopeia? At first, I thought
it might be  the International Space Station, as ISS looks a little like this...
But ISS wasn't visible, says HeavensAbove, so this must be a satellite.
10 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014. © SB 

What are these? Night sky shots, showing a fireball meteor, an air plane and a couple of satellites. 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo Dates:  August 11 and 12, 2014.



  1. Beautiful report and great pix. Missed the celestial whole show where I live (Victoria) because it unfolded in the one cloudy week we've had all summer. But you mean August and not July, shurely, in the text and photo dates.


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