how to... image the geminids
With no Moon to spoil things, this 2018's meteor shower could be one of the best in years. Here’s how to see and image it…
Capture the majesty of a meteor shower on camera
Every mid-December sky-watchers put aside their Christmas wrapping paper and head out into the countryside to watch shooting stars zip across the sky during the annual Geminid meteor shower. It’s one of the year’s most reliable meteor showers, and this year there’ll be no bright Moon to spoil things so we should be in for a real treat.
This year’s shower peaks on the night of 13 December, but you’ll see more meteors than usual for a few nights either side of that date.
December nights can be very cold, so wear lots of layers and make sure you put on thermal socks, thick gloves and a hat too. Take a flask of a hot drink with you to warm you up when you start to feel really chilly. Taking snacks for when you need an energy boost is a good idea too.
Choosing a good observing site is absolutely vital. Find somewhere with as little light pollution and passing traffic as possible. There should also be no trees, buildings or hills to obstruct your view of the sky either. If you can find somewhere that reminds you of being in a planetarium, that’s ideal.
Be at your site from 10pm and set up your camera on its sturdy tripod. Set the ISO to 800. Use a wide-angle lens, or a standard 50mm lens, but not a zoom or telephoto lens; you want your camera to capture as much of the sky as possible. Open the lens as wide as possible, and focus on a bright star or light on the horizon. Don’t point your camera directly towards the radiant in Gemini. If you aim at Orion, Auriga or Ursa Major you’ll have a chance of capturing a meteor with a long trail cutting through a familiar star pattern.
Using a cable release to reduce vibrations, take a test exposure of 30 seconds. Don’t worry that the stars have trailed; the important thing is capturing a meteor! If everything is in focus and exposed correctly then begin taking more photos. Your camera will probably let you take ten at a time, but be prepared to fail totally: the chances of a meteor flashing across the sky exactly where your camera is pointing are very slim!
Often you’ll see a bright shooting star zip across a different part of the sky to the one you’re aimed at. It’s then very tempting to change your target area, but try to be patient; every time you move your camera you risk losing sharp focus, though you should check focus regularly.
If you think you’ve caught a meteor stay patient - instead of fumbling to check with your gloved hands, check at home when you’ve thawed out.
“It’s one of the year’s most reliable meteor showers”