Meteor Shower over the VLA


Raining Meteors over the VLA Dishes

Meteors from the Geminid shower rain over the dishes of the VLA radio telescope.

Sunday night was a prime night for the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the best of the year. To capture it, I traveled to the Plains of San Agustin in the high desert of New Mexico.

It’s there that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory operates the 27 dishes of the Very Large Array radio telescope, one of the most photogenic – and photographed – astronomical facilities in the world.

I set up at a viewing point near the entrance, to look northwest over the dishes, arrayed that night, and all season, in its most compact configuration, with all the dishes clustered closest together.

It was an active meteor shower! One particularly bright meteor left a persistent “train” – a smoke trail that lasted over 15 minutes. It creates the fuzzy cloud around the meteor at right. The bright bolide is on two frames, as the shutter closed then opened again as the meteor was still flying! So its bright streak got cut in two. Pity!

I shot with two cameras. The image here is from one, using a 35mm lens to shoot 334 frames over 3 hours. Each exposure was 32 seconds at f/2 and at ISO 3200.

I’ve taken about two dozen of the frames, the ones with meteors, and stacked them here, with the sky and ground coming from one frame. The camera was not tracking the sky.

Bands of natural airglow and clouds illuminated by the lights of Albuquerque to the north add colour to the sky.

I would have shot for longer than three hours, but this was a very cold night, with a brisk wind and temperatures below freezing. A snowstorm had even closed some roads the day before. Three hours was enough on the high plains of San Agustin this night.

— Alan, December 14, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

2 Replies to “Meteor Shower over the VLA”

  1. Alan, I am guessing a “cost of doing business” of anchoring your image to the ground rather than to a point on the sky is that the radiant moves significantly during the course of your multiple exposures, therefore meteors don’t appear to diverge from a single spot but more from a “general direction”.
    Worth it to get the VLA in there, though! There are lots of multiple exposures of the other type out there already.
    Nice idea, nice shot.

    1. Because I had to aim NW to frame the dishes there was no point in tracking as the camera would have turned into the ground. Had the dishes been in a wider array there would have been one near a road so I could frame it in an east-facing camera and track the rising sky and radiant. But that was not possible. You cannot wander the site at night to set up wherever you wish – not legally! So you get what you can from the sidelines.

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