Fire in the Sky

Astronomy and all its wonders are fascinating regardless of where you are or how much equipment you have. Every year we do the family holiday down in southern British Columbia visiting family and friends.

This is a prime opportunity to see a very different night sky, especially when looking towards the southern horizon. Even as we were leaving the Yukon and entering northern British Columbia wisps of aurora could be seen.

The constellations of Cygnus, Hercules and Lyra rested high overhead and peaked through the clouds. With very dark skies it made for a most memorable sight.

Upon arriving at our home base in Kamloops, I was challenged with the task of photographing the Perseid meteor shower. In the backyard there are extensive gardens surrounded by a massive 20-foot high hedge. There is minimal local light pollution and a most impressive view to the south.

Heading out to the backyard with a chair, camera, tripod and coffee, I quickly set up and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I could see the constellation of Perseus, which is where the meteors appear to radiate from.

Off to the eastern horizon the Pleadies star cluster and Jupiter rose off the horizon. In another hour the moon and brilliant Venus came to join them in a loose-fitting line, rising off the mountaintops reaching into the night sky.

The basic skills for shooting a meteor shower are fairly simple as far as setting up your camera. First, turn the flash off, set the camera lens to manual focus and set the focus to infinity. With the camera set to manual, set the F-stop on the camera lens to 2.8 and the ISO to 800 to 3200.

Then all you have to do is set the cameras exposure time to between 20 and 100 seconds. Shorter exposures produce sharp star images while longer exposures will leave star trails.

Digital SLR cameras have the ability to take a picture, play it back and see if you are getting the picture you want. Also having live view on your camera makes this a pretty simple job of focusing producing good results.

For this location, I used my trusty Canon camera at ISO 1000, at f2.8, for 14 seconds with a 24 mm lens. The first thing you learn about a photographing a meteor shower is that you never know how many meteors there are going to be and exactly where in the sky they are going to be located.

As the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, you need to have you camera pointed away from this constellation. Also be ready to take plenty of pictures. The more pictures you take, the greater the chance of capturing a meteor.

It was an amazing show that went on from 1 a.m. until 5 a.m. The temperature was 29 degrees Celsius with little or no wind, and no bugs.

I saw three meteors heading off into the horizon at the same time all in a straight line. What an incredible sight!

I did notice that most of the meteors were short in length and brightness. There were no big long and bright meteors, known as “smokers”.

I took about 1,200 pictures and captured about 18 meteors.

August’s Perseid meteor shower was one of the best meteor showers I have ever seen and in the best possible conditions—it will be long remembered.

In our great northern skies we have brilliant Venus in the eastern morning sky. Jupiter can also be found in the evening to mid-morning eastern sky, residing in the constellation of Taurus the Bull.

These two bright planets make for plenty of good photo opportunities, especially if the aurora is happening.

September 29 there is a full moon, a harvest moon, actually, and it has some impressive company. The outer planets Neptune and Uranus join out lunar companion.

Uranus is right below the full moon and will appear as a small green dot, while Neptune can be found by first locating the constellation of Aquarius. Next, go to the bottom of the Y-shape and there you will find Neptune, which will appear as a small blue dot.

These planets are at their best for viewing this year. So take some time and head outside and check out the view.

Clear Skies!

September Night Skies

Sept 19 Mars and the crescent moon are three degrees apart, low in the evening sky.

Sept 22 First quarter moon. Autumn officially begins in the north.

Sept 28 Uranus is at opposition, which means that it rises in the evening and sets at sunrise.

Sept 29 Full moon (harvest moon). The moon is four degrees above Uranus.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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