Tonight (January 3-4) is the night of the Quandrantid Meteor Shower. This article will tell you what you need to know to see and photograph the first meteor shower of 2020. Best of all, this will be a dark sky night without interference from the moon.
Most meteor showers are named for the constellation that is their “radiant point”, the place in the night sky where they appear to originate. But in the case the Quadrantids, they are named for a constellation, Quandrans Muralis, that no longer exists as of 1922. The stars didn’t change, of course. In 1922 the International Astronomical Union divided the sky a little differently into 88 modern constellations. Not all of the old constellations made it on to the new list.
To See The Meteors
Where to Go
Get as far away as you can from big city lights.
Where to Look
See “Where to Point Your Camera” in the section below.
When to Look
The best viewing in north American will be between 3 am and dawn, early Saturday morning January 4. The higher in the sky the handle of the Big Dipper gets, the better the viewing will be.
To Photograph the Meteors
All of the above applies. Dark skies, be out between 3 am and dawn. You might see a few earlier in the night, beginning at midnight
Basic Camera Settings
Put your camera on a tripod.
Use a wide angle lens to take in a wide area of sky.
Manually focus the lens on infinity. That can be tricky for night photography. Read this article for help.
Start with these settings: ISO 3200. Aperture of f/4. Shutter set at 30 seconds.
Where To point Your Camera
The Quadrantids appear to radiate from a point near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. This sky map is from EarthSky.org. See the link below.
If you have Stellarium for your computer (it is free), or the Planets app for your smartphone (or a similar night sky app), or a planisphere, or start charts, figure out where the Big Dipper is in the sky and point your camera generally in the direction of the end of the handle.
Stellarium show the radiant point rising above the North-northwest horizon at 1:31 am January 4.
Take Some Test Shots
Take a few test pictures of the night sky to test your exposure settings. If the stars (or the sky background) are too bright, try ISO 1600 or lower (or cut the shutter speed from 30 to 15 seconds). If the stars are too dim, try ISO 6400 or higher.
Once the meteors start appearing, start taking pictures.
Don’t wait to see a meteor before you open the shutter. Just take one picture right after another until you get something. It is a bit about luck and a lot about having the shutter open most of the time. Check your exposures periodically, stop and adjust the ISO if necessary, and then start taking pictures again, one after another.
A wide angle lens increases your odds of photographing a meteor. Although meteors appear to radiate from a specific area of the sky, they can show up anywhere in the sky. A wide angle lens does mean the streak of the meteor across the sky will look smaller, but you can always crop the original image, as I did for the image at the top of this article.
Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III. Canon EF 15mm lens. f/4.5, 30 seconds, ISO 3200.
How To Use a Planisphere – with additional information on Stellarium software for your computer and the Planets app for smartphones.
Dark skies for 2020’s Quadrantid meteors – at EarthSky.org