How to Watch the 2023 Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower, also known as the Perseids, is considered the most spectacular and most reliable meteor shower of the year with 50 to 100 meteors per hour. 

In 2023, the Perseid Meteor Shower coincides with the New Moon phase. This means that it will be possible to see even more meteors in the night sky than usual. 

It is active each year from mid-July to late August and typically peaks around the evening of August 12, through the morning of August 13. These bright meteors leave streaks of light and color as they move through Earth’s atmosphere.

Perseid meteor streaking across the Milky Way. Robert Lenz.

The warm August nights make the event extra enjoyable, as you can comfortably sit in a lawn chair and watch the whole show. The best time to catch a shooting star is after midnight when the moon sets, as this will result in a much darker sky.

Below you will find tips on viewing the Perseid meteor shower, where to look, and how to photograph the event. Read all the way to the end for a brief astrophotography tutorial about how to create a composite image of this meteor shower.

What is a Meteor Shower?

Meteors come from leftover particles from comets and pieces of broken asteroids. Every year in August, Earth passes through this stream of debris and particles left by the comet.

The source of the debris and particles for the Perseids is dust and debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet. These particles make their way into Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, producing bright streaks of light across the sky.

Also known as shooting stars, many of these meteors are quite bright and can cause a ‘wow’ reaction from onlookers. 

It is interesting to note that there has been some debate as to whether this comet will eventually pass dangerously close to Earth in just over 100 years.  

Further investigation into the possible catastrophe revealed that the comet’s orbit is more stable than originally thought.

meteor shower

When And Where to See the Perseids

The best time to look for meteors is in the pre-dawn hours during the peak of the meteor shower (i.e. Aug 12/13).

Find the constellation Perseus in the night sky, located below the recognizable constellation of Cassiopeia, which looks like a big ‘W’.

Remember that the constellation is not the source of the meteor shower. It is an aid to help you locate the radiant for the meteor shower, which is the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to come.   

 The radiant will rise in the middle of the night and is highest at dawn.

Perseus constellation

Viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower

To enjoy the Perseids, you do not need a telescope or binoculars. The secret is to take in as much sky as possible and allow about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.

How to view the Perseid Meteor Shower: 

  • Avoid light pollution: darker skies will make a big difference in the number of meteors that you can see. This means getting away from the bright city lights that wash out the night sky and prevent us from seeing all but the brightest of meteoroids. If you can’t travel to a dark sky site, turn off house lights and keep street lights out of view. 
  • Let your eyes adapt: After viewing white light, your eyes will need roughly 30-40 minutes to adjust to the darkness. This will help you view faint meteors. Avoid using any white light while viewing.
  • Preserve your night vision: use a red light or headlamp to maintain your dark-adapted views
  • Get comfortable: Use a zero gravity chair or blanket on the ground to avoid neck strain from looking up. This will also help you view as much sky as possible for a greater chance of viewing meteors. Though the Perseids are in August, you will want to dress according to the weather (i.e. clothing and footwear)
  • Find the location: An unobstructed view of the northeastern sky and overhead is ideal. Locate the Perseus constellation, the longest trails are visible at 90° to the radiant. 

A full moon can affect the number of meteors that can be seen, as it washes out fainter meteors. So years when there is a crescent moon will be best for viewing the meteor shower. 

deep-sky objects in the constellation Perseus

The constellation Perseus is surrounded by some fantastic deep-sky objects.

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower 

If you own a DSLR or Mirrorless camera and a tripod, you’re in luck. You have everything needed to capture beautiful photos of this celestial event. 

These types of cameras are great for astrophotography because they allow you to take long-exposure photos that collect more light over time. 

Perseid Meteor Shower Photography

A DSLR or Mirrorless Camera is the best way to photograph a Meteor Shower.

A subscription to Adobe Photoshop will also help you create a composition photo of multiple meteors streaking across the sky at once.  

The main idea behind this process is that you will leave your camera shutter open for an extended period of time, for a better chance at capturing a meteor streaking across the sky.

Taking a series of long exposures over the duration of the event gives you a solid chance at capturing the action.

Rokinon 14mm Lens for astrophotography
The Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 wide-field Lens is a popular choice for astrophotography

Photographing Perseids with a DSLR/Mirrorless Camera 

  1. Attach your camera to a sturdy tripod and aim it roughly toward that constellation.  A nice wide-field lens would really help increase your chances of getting a great shot.
  2. While in manual mode on your DSLR, set a slow enough shutter speed to increase your chances of a meteor streak, but not so slow that the stars begin to trail. I prefer to have pinpoint stars with streaking meteors blazing through them.
  3. Sit next to your tripod and continuously press the shutter button for a period of about one hour or you can automate your session using a timer or camera control through a laptop.

Automate your Imaging Session

Using photo accessories can help automate your imaging session, and give you a better chance at catching a few meteor photos.  

A simple intervalometer (remote shutter release cable) will allow you to program the camera to take continuous exposures for an extended period of time.

This would do a great job of setting your camera to record the Perseids. 

remote shutter release cableRemote Shutter Release Controller

You can also use image capture software on your computer to automate your Perseid Meteor Shower photography session.

BackyardEOS, Astro Photography Tool, and N.I.N.A can be utilized in situations like meteor showers, as they allow you to automate a series of long exposure photos. For example, you could set your camera to take 100 x 30-second shots at ISO 800.  

The frames are then downloaded to your laptop with plenty of storage room. For the best results, ensure your computer has lots of hard drive storage space, and your DSLR has an AC power adapter.  Running out of storage space or battery power can ruin your night in a hurry,

Creating a Composite Image

You can use the photograph steps above to create a composite image of the meteor shower.

When shooting your series of images, it is important to not move your positioning. Choose your initial framing carefully, because you will be sticking with it for the rest of the night!  

The process of combining your images taken during the meteor shower is rather simple, but it will make a big difference in the impact your shot makes.

A glorious example of a Meteor Shower composite image – Leo Lam

The idea is to create a single image containing every meteor you capture throughout the night. If you captured enough Perseid meteors (that came streaking out of the radiant point), you will have the elements needed to produce an image that represents the events that took place that night.

After your Imaging Session:

  1. Review your photos: Try to isolate the shots that contain a meteor streaking across the sky. This can be very exciting, especially if you caught a bright one! Ideally, you will have at least 3-4 shots that contain meteors, but the more the better.  
  2. Register, stack, and process: To get a base image of your night sky, stack 10 x 30-second exposures should give you a nice smooth image containing a sky full of stars and constellations. You can process this image to pull out some fainter stars, balance the background sky, and reduce noise. This will be the underlying layer of stars for your meteor shower composite. If you were able to include an interesting foreground subject, bonus points to you!
  3. Blend your images: Next, take the meteor frames you selected earlier and place them on top of your base image as layers. Set these layers to “lighten” blending mode in Photoshop, to reveal only the meteor, but not the noisy, unprocessed background sky. You can subtly process your meteor frames to brighten the meteor slightly, but don’t overdo it.  
  4. Create master file: Do this with all of your meteor frames, to create a master file with every meteor that occurred during your session. You can then flatten the image (or create a new adjustment layer) and do some overall image edits.

Review your files to find the images with meteors for your composite image

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