It took long 8 years but it was worth it. Here comes the longest and most time-consuming astrophotography project of my life, the complete collection of major annual meteor showers with a normal zenithal hourly rate of more than 18 meteors per hour. While most stargazers around the globe are familiar with August Perseids and December Geminids meteor showers, less known but still very nice showers can be seen throughout the whole year. Starting with January Quadrantids, the meteor shower of the “lost constellation”, the three of the year have the highest counts of meteors during their peaks (more than 100). Another three showers are not that active but are still truly notable. April Lyrids meteor shower is usually quiet with about 18 meteors per hour during maximum, but its activity can rise to a hundred, occasionally. In May and October, stargazers can enjoy two showers caused by the most famous comet of history, Halley’s comet. While Eta-Aqarids are much better observable from the southern hemisphere (normal ZHR up to 40 meteors), October Orionids can be seen practically everywhere in the world, best from the equator (normal ZHR up to 20 meteors). Quadrantids and Geminids are caused by fragments of asteroids, thus the meteors have different colors than the others caused by comets. As I used almost the same settings for taking all images ( same cameras, lenses, post-processing methods), it was easy to put them together in this collection.
each shower have different colors. Indeed, it all depends on the chemical composition of the debris coming from the parental body of each meteor shower. Basically, the most colorful are the ones caused by comets, which are Lyrids (comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher), Perseids (comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle), and Eta-Aquarids with Orionids caused by the same comet (Halley’s one). Their colors are mostly green and red, caused by emissions of calcium and magnesium. Quadrantids and Geminids, however, are more white-blue, which comes from the different chemical compositions as their parental bodies are asteroids and colors can come even from havier elements. Compare yourself with this color-corrected image, which presents the colors of the sky and meteors the physically right way. Indeed, every meteor shower is so unique!
More about captured meteors showers
First in the collection is the Quadrantids meteor shower. Caused by fragments of asteroid 2003 EH (the mostly white colors of the meteors) with an almost perpendicular orbit to the ecliptic plane, the shower has a very sharp peak usually around January 3. Thus it is a true challenge to capture this one because three complications usually occur: time of maximum is not during the night, but by daytime; the Moon can be very bright by the time of maximum; winter weather is unpredictable and very often complicates any photography. The foreground image in the mosaic was taken above over Flajšová, Oravská Lesná, Slovakia, where I succeeded in 2020. More meteors for the final image I captured, however, in 2019 (Seč, Czech Republic), 2020 (Oravská Lesná, Slovakia) and 2022 (Záhradné, Slovakia). The final image contains only 34 meteors as all three observations were mostly disrupted by cloudy weather.
The second captured shower is Lyrids. Not very active, but well known as it is the first spring one after almost no meteor activity since Quadrantids, the Lyrids shower is caused by comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). As the radiant is close by the circumpolar star Vega (in the northern hemisphere), the circumstances can be very good, weather permitting, especially in the mornings, when Lyra gets close to the zenith. Unfortunately, activity is usually low, around 18 meteors per hour during not sharp maximum around 22 April. For Lyrids shooting, I was very lucky during the unpleasant COVID lockdown season of April 2020, shooting from Seč, Czech Republic. Between 19 and 24 April 2020, I captured 35 meteors. Used Canon 6D (modified), Sigma 35 mm, f 2.2, ISO 8000, 60×13 s panorama from tripod + 33x30s timelapsing of meteors (Samyang 12 mm, f2.8).
The third, most “untouchable” from Europe, was Eta-Aquarids, one of two major meteor showers of Halley’s comet. Radiant of the Eta-Aquarids is located in “the heart” of the Aquarius constellation, making this one, with its peak around May 7, observable especially (best way) from the southern hemisphere. Northerners have the radiant very low over the horizon during short nights just before dawn and so it would take years to “collect” many meteors for one image. Thus I traveled for the moonless Eta-Aquarids south in the Atacama Desert, Chile (nearby San Pedro de Atacama), where I captured 94 meteors between 28 April and 8 May 2022, against the bright Milky Way, Zodiacal Light, and the morning planetary parade. Meteors were taken on 2 cameras Canon 6D (modified) and 12mm, f2.8, ISO 8000, and registered to the background image.
The well-known Perseids meteor shower with its peak around August 12, I observed and photographed several times. More than a month-long activity during the best time of the year with most of the clear nights allowed me to detect dozens of colorful meteors caused by the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. The image I decided to use for the final collection, was taken during the Perseids peak of 2018 from Kolonica Observatory, Slovakia. That year, I spent 8 nights and captured 149 meteors in total (between 6 and 14 August 2018) and as a bonus, a very bright Perseid fireball with more than one hour of the visible persistent train appeared as well. Used Canon 6D Baader IR modified with Samyang 24 mm, f2.8, ISO 10000, and 15s single exposures (panorama). Meteors were captured on two bodies 6D with Samyang 12 mm, f2.8, ISO 10000.
An active mid-autumn meteor shower for the northerners, the Orionids meteor shower, is caused by the debris of Halley’s comet as well as the Eta-Aquarids. Orionids is, however, less active, with about 20 meteors per hour at maximum around October 22. The best view is from equator areas where the radiant rises very high to the zenith and the rate is highest as well. In Europe, where I was observing, the weather is very changeful as cloudy autumn is usually in progress. Thus Orionids in the image was captured from Záhradné, Slovakia, in 2020 and 2022, but I also used several meteors taken in 2019 (Seč, Czech Republic) and 2014 (Tenerife, Canary Island, Spain) to get the final count of 47 meteors in the image. Used Canon 6D BCF modified, Sigma 35mm, f1.8, ISO 6400, a panorama of 28 panels, each stacked of 6×13 seconds from a tripod. Meteors were captured by timelapsing with Canon 6D, Samyang 12mm, f2.8, ISO 10000, and 30s exposures.
And finally, the “richest” annual meteor shower, the December Geminids, was also one of the luckiest ones. Geminids are well known for the highest meteor activity of all major meteor showers of year, around 150 meteors in its peak around December 14, thanks to a thick stream of debris from asteroid 2300 Phaeton (thus also they are not such colorful). This activity will not last forever, it seems it is in its highest point now and the shower can rapidly decrease its activity during the next century. As radiant is located by the Gemini constellation and the maximum peaks a week before the winter solstice of the northern hemisphere, observers can count even a thousand meteors per long night of Geminid’s peak. Of course, this shower is also very much disrupted by the moon phase and cloudy (even freezing) winter weather and so to get a good Geminids night can take years. I was lucky only twice in my life, both moments are combined in the last image. The first time was in December 2018 when the sky cleared up above Seč, Czech Republic, and then in 2021 from Záhradné, Slovakia. Geminids from both nights were registered together in the final image (with a foreground of the Seč), with a count of 133 meteors in total. The setting was the same for both cases, Canon 6D IR Baader modified, Saymang 24 mm, f2.2, ISO 10000 (foreground panorama), and Samyang 12 mm, f2.8, ISO 10000 (meteors). Meteors are registered to the foreground image.