Simple Astrophotography – What The Geminids (Did Not) Look Like From LA

Tonight was the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower. I gave it the old college try, but I had a few strikes against me from the start.

A) I’m not in a dark sky location – being in one of the world’s top twenty metropolitan areas means there’s a lot of light pollution.

B) It was partially cloudy, with drifting, scattered, high clouds.

C) A+B = clouds reflect back all of that light pollution

While I did get to see three bright Geminid meteors, I didn’t catch any on camera. I saw one long, slow burner that looked like fireworks sprinklers, plus two bright, thin, fast shooters that came out of Gemini, through Taurus, and into Cassiopeia. I also saw a couple of what I thought were flashes illuminating clouds, almost like lightning, but they were in my peripheral vision and gone, so I’m not sure if they were bright meteors or a byproduct of standing too long out in the cold.

What I did see were clouds,

IMG_2768 small

(Orion on its side in the lower right, the “V” of Taurus at upper center, Cassiopeia at upper left)

and a plane

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in a slightly different view, going right through Cassiopeia (the “M”-shaped constellation).

However, in trying to catch something, I shot a whole lot of pictures. (Surprise!) Most were either five-second exposures or ten-second exposures, depending on how close to a streetlight I was pointing and how close to the horizon where the light pollution was the worst.

I knew that by doing this for five and ten minutes at a time, shooting off one frame as soon as I heard the click of the camera (the remote control for the Canon DSLR is the best $15 I’ve spent in years), I was essentially shooting frames in a animated movie. There are guys who really, really do this well, and by “well” I mean “holy guacamole, Batman, this is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!’

I wasn’t doing it that well, but it was a good excuse to start playing around with GIMP and Photoshop when I got back home.


Jeez, I thought that it took a long time to process a couple hundred pictures into a panorama – rendering a video from 290 full-sized JPEG frames takes freakin’ forever! This is the small, fast, low-resolution MP4 version. The full-sized QuickTime version might be finished rendering by morning – Monday or Tuesday morning! We’ll see if I can get it up on the site here or not later.

In short, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade – when life hands you clouds, make time-lapse cloud videos!

1 Comment

Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

One response to “Simple Astrophotography – What The Geminids (Did Not) Look Like From LA

  1. Jemima Pett

    I may have done better than you, without the photos, since it was a clear cold night here, and I gazed out of my bathroom window at Orion and Sirius, seeing four or five meteors in about fifteen minutes. The best started high and went almost straight down to the horizon, which was a neat trick. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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