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Leonid Meteors Get Caught on Camera, But It Wasn’t Easy

Image: Meteors
Meteor trails flash in a composite image of the night sky over New Mexico, near Silver City. Jupiter is the bright object at right of center. The green at the left of the image, where the Big Dipper is rising, is from airglow, a phenomenon of the upper atmosphere caused by glowing oxygen atoms. Each frame was 30 seconds at ISO 4000 with a Canon 6D camera and 14mm lens at f/2.8. © 2014 Alan Dyer / www.AmazingSky.net

November's Leonid meteor shower ranks among the year's best-known sky shows, but unless it's the right year for a meteor storm, those shooting stars can be hard to catch. Just ask Canadian astrophotographer Alan Dyer.

Dyer staked out a nice dark place just outside Silver City, New Mexico, for Monday night's meteor session. Between 11:45 p.m. and 1:40 a.m., he pointed his camera toward the eastern sky, where the meteors' radiant point in the constellation Leo was rising.

"I shot just over 200 images in quick succession, each 30-second exposures with an ultra-wide angle 14mm lens," Dyer said in an email. "The hope was to capture a really bright 'Earth-grazer' meteor from the Leonids — this is a meteor coming at us at a low angle to the horizon and shooting across the sky as it grazes the Earth instead of descending at a steep angle."

Image: Leonid chart
Leonid meteors appear to emanate from a point in the constellation Leo, which is distinguished by a sickle of stars that form the "mane" of the celestial lion. Stardate.org

The Leonids should be well-suited to produce Earth-grazers, because the shower's radiant point is low in the sky during prime time for meteors.

"However, as often happens, the sky didn't cooperate!" Dyer wrote. "I didn't catch any bright Earth-grazers, but did catch five fainter Leonids. Out of 200 frames over nearly two hours, only five frames captured Leonids. The brightest meteor I caught was what we call a sporadic — a meteor that does not belong to any shower. It is not traveling in the same direction as the other meteors."

To catch more of Dyer's photography, check out his Amazing Sky website and photo gallery, as well as his Flickr photostream, Vimeo channel and Facebook page. And for more Leonid shots, feast your eyes on SpaceWeather.com's gallery.