This is the best week to see the Lyrid Meteor Shower. The peak is early Thursday morning April 22, but you can see meteors through the 25th. This article will tell you what you need to know to see and photograph this popular spring meteor shower..
Most meteor showers are named for the constellation that is their “radiant point”, the place in the night sky where they appear to originate. The Lyrids are named for the constellation Lyra.
To See The Meteors
Where to Go
Get as far away as you can from big city lights. If you end up near other photographers, keep a good 12-15 feet apart for coronavirus social distancing.
Red Lights for Dark Adaptation
It takes your eyes 20-30 minutes to dark adapt and see fully at night. People who do this a lot usually own a red headlamp, or use a flashlight with a red filter. White lights are a no no. Turn a white light on just for a moment and your dark adaptation starts all over again.
One night at Sprague Lake in Colorado about 15 photographers in several groups were doing night photography. Someone started around the lake with a white flashlight and all around the lake voices yelled out “Turn your flashlight off!”
Where to Look
The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but generally look high in the southeast in the hours before dawn.
When to Look
Go out any night between 10 pm and dawn.The best viewing will be between 2 am and dawn.
The peak of the shower with an estimated 10-20 meteors per hour will last last just a few hours. The predicted center of the peak in North America is Thursday, April 22, between 3 am and dawn, but you might see the stragglers the following two or three mornings.
To Photograph the Meteors
All of the above applies so far as dates and times.
Basic Camera Settings
Put your camera on a tripod.
Use a wide angle lens to take in a wide area of sky. The wider the better.
Turn autofocus off. 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 Look and Point Your Camera
The Lyrids appear to radiate from a point near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. Before midnight Lyra comes up in the northeast and climbs higher toward the southeast throughout the night. The best viewing and photogrpahy will be the early morning high in the southeast.
If you have Stellarium for your computer (it is free, link below), or the Planets app for your smartphone (or a similar night sky app), or a planisphere, or star charts, figure out where Lyra is in the sky at the time you will be out watching and point your camera in that area of the sky.
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 a lot of 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 just about 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.
2021 Lyrid meteor shower: All you need to know – at EarthSky.org
The Lyrid Meteor Shower of 2021 – at Space.com