Perseids 2021: Tips for shooting stars with the camera


Soon it will be that time again: the earth crosses the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle on its way around the sun. Here, near the sun, the comet has lost some of its fragments. And when these then burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, we see shooting stars. This year, a particularly large number of shooting stars should be expected, as this time the earth passes exactly a field of debris, which the comet lost 4 orbits ago in 1479.

Shooting stars that emerge from such a field of debris on the earth’s orbit seem to have their origin in the sky in a single point for the observer on earth. This is a similar effect to driving your car through snowflakes in winter. In the days when the comet’s orbit is crossed, the earth is heading straight towards the constellation Perseus. Therefore, it looks like the shooting stars originated in this constellation. Hence their name: “Perseids”.

The eastern starry sky in mid-August around 2 a.m.

(Bild: Starry Night)

The constellation Perseus can be found quite easily in the morning hours: high in the southeast you can see a diamond made up of 4 bright stars, the so-called autumn square in the constellation Pegasus. From the left star of this diamond a chain of brighter stars goes horizontally to the left (the constellation Andromeda), which at its left end meets a vertical arc of stars that form the constellation Perseus.

“Productive falling stars”, “up to 100 falling stars per hour”, “fireworks in the night sky”: This or something like that is the headlines every year, and many people who then look for a real falling star are usually disappointed. Because if you look soberly at the “up to 100 falling stars per hour”, the following picture emerges:

  • “Up to 100” is a maximum value. There is no guarantee that this will be achieved.
  • Of the (maximum) 100 shooting stars, half go down on the other side of the earth, so we cannot see them at all.
  • And if you then spread the remaining 50 over the hour, you have less than a shooting star per minute on average. And even then, you may see 3 or 4 shooting stars in a short period of time, and then not a single one for minutes.

So, before you get too disappointed, you should say goodbye to the idea of ​​a continuous “rain” of falling stars. What you can expect, however, is that if you observe them for a longer period (at least 15 minutes) you will see a handful of shooting stars.

“The maximum is expected in the early hours of August 12th,” said the news again this year. But that does not mean that the Perseids can only be observed on the night of August 11th to 12th. The first Perseids were already on their way in the last nights of July, and the number increased from night to night, with the maximum around August 11th. After that, however, the number per night decreases rapidly – after August 16, it will hardly be possible to see a Perseid shooting star.

But that also means that you don’t necessarily have to be on August 12th. has to go out in the early morning hours for observation. A couple of nights earlier or one or two nights later you also have the chance. This year it is advisable to go “hunting” between August 8th and 12th, as the waxing moon is then still quite faint in the evening sky and has set by midnight. After that, the moon becomes brighter from night to night, and a bright moon that outshines the sky is not a good companion for shooting stars.

Catching shooting stars is a matter of luck and patience. There are several strategies for photographing them.

Incidentally, the ideal time to observe the Perseids is between two and four in the morning. Because then we look “in the direction of travel” from our location on earth, without the sun interfering with the observation.

Anyone who has ever seen a falling star will probably remember it well: A shining object, bright as a star, which scurries across half the sky in a fraction of a second and disappears as quickly as it appeared. Something completely different from an airplane, which is slowly flashing past, or a satellite, which is also slowly moving its orbit in the sky with a uniform light. For the photographer, this means two things in particular: