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Shooting stars: a beautiful sight everyone should see at least once!

Have you ever seen a shooting star? It’s quite a spectacle, seeing a little piece of dust or rock burning a line across the night sky. If you’d like to see shooting stars (or perhaps even a much more impressive fireball!) without waiting for hours and hours, what you need is a meteor shower.

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While you’re at it, why not take an amazing photo? With NightCap Pro you can photograph a meteor shower using your iPhone!

What is a meteor shower?

Meteor showers happen when a comet (or sometimes an asteroid) crosses the earth’s orbit around the sun. They leave behind a trail of dust and small bits of ice and rock, and each time the earth passes through this trail lots of these bits burn up in our atmosphere. Each time it happens, we see a shooting star.

When to see a meteor shower

There are many meteor showers throughout the year. There’s an excellent guide to viewing meteor showers including a good timetable at Meteorwatch.

What to expect

It depends on a few things, but 5-6 meteors per hour is a reasonable minimum to expect, if you’re lucky you’ll see a lot more. Some will be small streaks of light across the sky, a few will be big with flashes of light, and if you’re lucky you’ll see a fireball!

A few things can have an impact on the experience:

  • Clouds will block your view. If it’s really cloudy, you’ll see nothing at all. Wait for a clear sky.
  • The moon! A full moon is really bright, it ruins your night vision and lights up the sky making it hard to see fainter shooting stars. The Meteorwatch meteor shower calendar shows how bright the moon will be.
  • Light pollution limits what you can see. As a rule, the more stars you can see, the more meteors you’ll see too. Search online for your nearest dark sky site!

Watching a meteor shower

First, find a dark area away from bright lights. The darker it is, the more your eyes will open up, the better your night vision will get, and the more meteors you will see. You want somewhere with a clear view of the sky, so an open field or park is good.

Then, lie down on the ground (or on a camping bed, reclining chair etc.), look up, and wait.

Equipment to take

  • Something to lie on (a picnic mat, camping bed, beach towel – whatever suits your location)
  • A tripod with an iPhone or smartphone adaptor
  • The NightCap Pro app
  • If it’s going to be cold, warm clothes (or a sleeping bag) and a hot drink

Taking photos with your iPhone

Capturing shooting stars with an iPhone is easy if you use the NightCapPro app. Once set up, you can simply leave it running while you enjoy the view! Here’s how to do it:

  1. Put your iPhone on a tripod if possible. You can buy a tripod and/or a smartphone to tripod adaptor very cheaply online – it doesn’t have to be professional, a basic model will be fine. You’ll be taking very long exposure photos, so it’s important to keep the phone stable.

  2. Set your iPhone to Airplane mode, and make sure any alarms/reminders are turned off! Incoming messages and alerts can spoil the photo!

  3. Open NightCap Pro, and turn on Night Mode (moon icon). This makes the camera much more sensitive, so it can capture much fainter stars (including the shooting kind). A green light indicates that it’s turned on.

  4. Set the camera mode to “Light Trails” by tapping on the star (camera modes) button, then selecting the stretched, solid star.

  5. You need the camera to focus on the stars. This can be tricky, especially with older iPhone models, as the iPhone camera struggles to focus on stars well. If you have difficulty (zooming in will help check if it’s well focused), try focusing on anything bright on the horizon, such as trees outlined against the glow of street lights. As long as it’s 50 meters/yards away or more, it will work fine.

  6. Once it’s nicely focused, lock focus (tap the Foc/Exp/WB button to open the locks panel, then tap FOC. A green light indicates that focus is locked.

You’re all set up ready now. The rest is easy: point the iPhone at the sky, and tap the shutter button to start capturing. When you want to finish capturing, just tap the shutter button again.

If you leave it to capture for more than a few minutes, you’ll see the stars start to move across the picture as the earth spins around in space. This photo was taken over 1 hour with an iPhone 5S and NightCap Pro – it was taken on a clear night in a dark area, but NOT during a meteor shower – you’ll probably see one shooting star per hour on any night of the year, and many more during a shower.

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This is a 1 hour capture taken on an iPhone 5S with NightCap Pro. You can see the stars forming circles (a complete circle requires a 24 hour capture!) and you can see a dash at the top – that’s a shooting star!

NightCap Pro will record everything between when you start and end the capture, so leave it running for as long as you can. That gives you more chance to catch shooting stars, and the star trails will be longer. If you leave it for more tha a few minutes, you’ll see the stars start to draw circles in the sky too – leave it for an hour or more and you’ll capture beautiful star trails!

Taken with NightCap Pro on an iPhone 5S. You can see star trails, the dashed lines left by planes, and at the top middle the small dash of a shooting star.

If you catch any shooting stars with NightCap Pro and you’d like to share them with us please let us know! You can email us at [email protected] or find us on twitter as @nightcapapp.

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