Meteor Observation Page

Video Meteor Observation

I have been using UFO Capture since 2005. Initially this was the free version to re-scan videos made with a Watec 120 camera. I first encountered video meteor techniques on an observing trip to Australia in 2004, it was a revelation! I knew immediately that this was going to change my meteor observing.

The first time I made observations of the Perseids using the Watec 120 and recording the results onto VHS video I could just not believe how many meteors I had captured. Having been a visual and film based observer since around 1983, compared to ordinary photography it was simply a new era!

The following year I invested in a watec 902H2 Ultimate. Again this was another revelation. Dropping the intermediate stage and hassle of recording to video tape made things much using a usb frame grabber and a laptop I was regularly capturing dozens of meteors. Even from my very cloudy and wet location in the south west of Scotland.

The following couple of years produced un dreamed of results. I experimented with different frame grabbers and a large variety of lenses.

The frame grabbers proved somewhat problematic. All of them seemed to produce various artifacts on the co-added images. After doing a bit more research this seems to be a common problem with the pre-processing done by the chipsets in the grabbers. This was a cosmetic nuisance but nothing more. Some were better than others and it was a process of elimination.

The same was true of lenses. Unfortunately I missed the boat with the best fast lenses which went out of production right as I was getting into video meteor observing, typical!

I tried a variety of decent Pentax lenses but I have finally settled on two types for general use. The first is a Genie branded 3-8.5mm zoom lens. This is designed for 1/3in sized chips so at wide fields the whole chip of the Watec (a 1/2in chip) isn't illuminated. By zooming in this effect diminishes and at around 7mm focal length there is a reasonably complete illumination. This lens is f1 but what I've found is more important is that the lens has a good aspheric design and is IR corrected. This is essential for monochrome chips which have considerable sensitivity in the near IR. I purchased a Raymax lens but it turned out to be pretty much useless for good quality observations despite being very fast at f0.75. The optical aberations and defocus completely spoil the images. (It's also looks like it's really designed for the very small 1/4in chips as some aberations are still seen on 1/3in chipped colour cameras at the shortest focal length setting.)

The second lens is a 12mm f1.2. This of course has a narrower field of view but with a larger phyiscal aperture it "see's" fainter objects. In fact using this lens I have recorded more meteors than any other, so far. I use the 12mm lens with a 300lpm grating to capture meteor spectra now.

Digital SLR Meteor Imaging

For many years I used a couple of Praktika MTL cameras an old Lubitel and an even older twin Lens Mamiya. Despite shooting lots of film I have only ever caught a few meteors on film. Even during the fantastic Leonid fireball outburst in 1998 which I was lucky enough to catch, running three camera's yielded only a handful of meteors (left most and centre image are of the night of the fireballs, 17th November 1998, the right hand image is of a Leonid from 1999). I did all my own processing, the standard was HP5+ done in ID11 but I experimented with T-Max 400 and 3200 as well as E200 and Provia 400 colour slide films.

Now with the greater quantum efficiency of electronic detectors and no hassle with processing Digital SLR's make meteor photgraphy MUCH easier. There is still the random element of the meteors themselves but there are no material issues now. One can snap away under less than ideal conditions and not worry about wasting film as well as all the mess of processing.

The last roll of film I shot was during the 2006 Perseids. Finally I caught a nice bright meteor, just about mid frame and in colour! This was the first night I tried recording onto video tape and that was the end of the road, film-wise, for me!

Here it is....

Above is an Ursid from the "outburst" in December 2007, it was faint and the moon was full that night. Took a bit of stretching so it's pretty poor.

I currently run two Canon 350D cameras plus a Canon 1000D using a variety of lenses including a 30mm f1.4, 24mm f2.8, my old faithful Zeiss Jena 35mm f2.4 (30 years and counting!) and an 8mm f3.5

Meteor Observing Trips and Expeditions

I have been extremely lucky to have been able to observe the night sky from some amazing locations. Most of my interests now lie in observing comets and trying to capture meteors. Keeping some form of notes is important as you never know what you'll see but as meteor observing is just a hobby I'm more interested in getting some nice pictures of the meteors than the science (a bit of a heresy even to myself but there's got to be some fun had!)

I've been trying to capture meteor spectra since Aug 2008 using the video camera and have some nice gratings for the DSLR's. I've also tried some experiments into meteor polarimetry but that's another story....

The Zodiacal light from La Palma

Leonids 2006

19th November 2006

Video HERE

This video was made from grabs taken on the videos I shot whilst observing at Calar Alto in Southern Spain. I was using the Watec 902H2 feeding into the AV input of my handicam. The video was then scanned using UFO Capture (free version).

This outburst was a good show but what was the most impressive thing in the sky was the Zodiacal Light. I have never seen it quite so bright as that morning.

Geminids 2012

13/14 December 2012

After a very succesful observing trip to Tenerife to observe the Geminids in 2009 I returned in 2012 as the conditions were again extremely favourable.

I was observing from the observatory at Izana. Conditions were very good on the night of the peak. Even with quite a bit of skyglow from the towns at sea level the sky was gorgeous. As the night went on I was aware of an odd optical illusion of meteors appearing to curve and swerve. I'm pretty sure this is the eye/brain rapidly making judgments on positions relative to nearby bright stars! Quite strange though as the movement "looked" real enough! The first video shows a bright -5 fireball close to the radiant and it's dust trail drifting across the sky. Several fainter meteors can also be seen towards the bottom of the frame as it plays.

The second show some more brighter meteors. Two of which also leave trains.

Odds and Ends

I assembled an all sky "fireball" camera system using a redundant parallel port starlight xpress ccd camera. This had an 8.5mm lens onto which a Nikon fisheye adapter was mounted. It worked well in as much it produced decent images however having no where permenant to put it I only used it a couple of times. I'd like to get something like this running again if I could put it somewhere permenantly.

Here's a video of a sigma Hydrid, taken with a Watec 902H2 Ultimate camera using a 25mm f0.85 lens. video

This is a cracking lens but difficult to mount due to its design. I'm ever hopeful that Watec or somebody will bring out a high sensitivity megapixel camera that this lens could be ulilised on.

A bright satellite glint (possibly an Iridium flare?)

A strange wee thing .

Occasionally something a bit lower in altitude get caught by the system. I think this was a barn owl out hunting.

I put a simple forum together a couple of years ago mostly for those observers in the south west of Scotland but there are now other members from across the UK and it would be nice to see others from further afield!

Meteor Observers Forum

It's not very active but please say hello and post your meteor picks!

More to come as time permits

Me on La Palma at the observatory in May 2006, in the background is the Caldera de Taburiente. The next IMC will be held on La Palma in September 2012.

A short video of La Palma HERE

A time lapse video of the close approach of the near Earth asteroid 2012DA14

email (remove.nospam) and I've also joined the modern era, now in the twitterverse, @meteorbill


This is a personal page hosted by the School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow. It does not represent the interests or opinions of the School or the University of Glasgow in any manner whatsoever.

Bill Ward, Last check Feb 2012.