Not being a keen astronomer myself, I’m not clued into events that happen in the sky most of the time. Just by chance, this week, while eating dinner, I watched a news story on TV which tipped me off about the Geminid meteor shower peaking roughly Monday night to early Tuesday morning Sydney time. If I were to believe the news, this year it was to be very much visible due to the lack of moon and you wouldn’t have to look in any particular direction.
I tried to do some homework, the first stop was this page from EarthSky which gave me some information about the shower but not quite enough for a complete novice like myself. Where was I supposed to look? Gemini of course … but where is Gemini? I dug further for a sky map, which Sydney Observatory provided, but I couldn’t find Gemini anywhere.
Time was ticking, and not wanting to let the opportunity slip by, I hastily grabbed my Nikon D3300 (the D3200 since retired with hardware failure), 8mm fisheye, AC adapter, tripod and intervalometer and set up in the backyard to take sets of long exposures all night. The fisheye had a wide field of view, so we should capture pretty much all of the sky we can see in our limited viewing angle … so I thought I’d be onto a winner.
I compiled everything into a 2FPS video, so we have time to clearly process all of what is showing up. Sadly, all I got was a nice view of the stars whizzing by and light spill from the house. The stars were limited in number because Sydney’s pretty light-polluted. There may have been something, but I just didn’t see it … and then the clouds and sun came in, and that was that.
Afterwards, I was a little perplexed but then I decided to educate myself a little. First port of call was to get a proper star map – namely Stellarium. Many years back, I had installed the software, but not being an astronomy enthusiast, I didn’t have much reason to use it and totally forgot about it.
I used the time panel to simulate the sky in my location at a time that we had taken a photo and tried to align the fisheye image with the constellations shown on the screen. While I couldn’t get an exact alignment because of the differing projection of the lens and the map, I used Rigel and surrounding stars as a guide.
It matches up with what I thought I was doing – namely having the camera pointed north (to the best of my knowledge) and then tilted to point straight up.
Where were the Geminids? Far off to the horizon where the camera couldn’t see. In fact, far off into the horizon where the trees and neighbouring houses made it impossible to get a good view anyway.
Sometimes, when you hear about these things from the media, you would really wish they gave more accurate information about the best viewing. But then again, the fault is my own for not properly doing the homework until after the event (because of the limited time) and as a result, I had missed it. I suppose if I did do my homework, I might not have even left my camera outside at all … but at least now I know what to do next time, which is to fetch out Stellarium … or maybe even Google Sky Map.