Friday, 14th Dec 2018

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Aug 17 2016

2016 Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower in 2016 was expected to peak in the wee hours of August 12 with reasonably good observing conditions (Moon expected to set before the peak). As I was on vacation in the Greek island of Lipsi (Λειψοί), I could not bring along my full setup: instead, I had to make do with my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera (fitted with its ubiquitous 16-50 mm zoom), a small Cullmann tripod and a shutter release remote control.

Therefore, I headed out to a dark site, where I set up my rig and shot multiple 30 s exposures for about an hour, between 2:00 and 3:00 local time (23:00 – 00:00 UT) with the camera set at 6400 ISO and the zoom at the shortest focal length possible (16 mm @ f/3.5).

Out of about 140 exposures, one or more shooting stars were detected in 25 exposures, totaling 27 meteors, i.e. about half of what I managed to observe with the naked eye. These figures are not impressive, the problem being essentially the relatively narrow field of view. For such applications a wider field of view, e.g. such as the one offered by my Canon 6D DSLR + my 14 mm Samyang lens combo, is strongly advisable. Unfortunately, I could not bring a more advanced (but heavier) rig because of restrictions on baggage weight.

When back home, I picked out the shots where at least one meteor was visible, then I put them together in a composite in PixInsight and Photoshop. Here is the final result:

Perseid meteors

The meteors are visible in the image above as multicolor streaks (akin to a rainbow), which appear to be originating from a single spot in the sky, called the “radiant”, located in constellation Perseus. All in all I think the result is not so bad, given the less-than-ideal equipment used.

The most prominent meteors recorded are in the upper right quadrant (the one ending out of the field of view, most likely a fireball) and the one in the bottom right quadrant, closer to M45, the Pleiades star cluster.

Below is an annotated version of the above composite:

Perseid meteor shower 2016 annotated composite

Perseid meteor shower 2016 annotated composite

However, there is indeed much room for improvement. Lessons learned for next time:

  • The A6000 has rather low noise. However, 30 s at 6400 ISO sensitivity is too much even for the low light pollution levels of the most secluded Greek islands. 3200 ISO is more than adequate for this purpose, or shoot shorter exposures (e.g. 15-20 s).
  • Use a wider-field lens.
  • Get a better quality lens. The Sony 16-50 mm zoom is a handy all-round daylight photography lens, but is not suitable for astrophotography because of the many optical flaws (namely, vignetting and coma).

Anyway, enjoy! :mrgreen: