The Leonids Meteor Shower falls on a weekend with no moon
Of the two meteor showers expected in November this year, the Leonids is the best. Peaking on November 17 to 18, it should be visible throughout most of the month of November, but the peak only falls on a weekend when there will be no interference from moonlight. In addition, the Taurids Meteor shower is occurring in the same month, which means there will be an overlap of shooting stars.
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
About the Leonids
In a normal year, like 2017, the Leonids Meteor Shower will produce about 15 shooting stars per hour, which is typical for most meteor showers. The Leondis is famous though for the fact that over 30 or so years, it produced meteor storms of thousands of shooting stars per year. The last time this occurred was in 2002 and we are now in the lull period with fewer shootings stars.
The general rules for meteor shower watching are - wait until the hours between midnight and dawn, get away from city lights, have a good view of the sky, find a comfortable spot to watch the sky (lying down or sitting is better on your neck than standing), let your eyes adjust to the dark (this takes about 20 minutes) and keep looking at the sky.
The name of most meteor showers come from the point in the sky where the shooting stars appear to originate. With the Leonids, it is the constellation Leo. You can find the constellation easier enough by using a night sky app on your phone or tablet. I use Sky Map, but it is just one of many equally good apps available. However, as the shooting stars streak out in all directions, you should be looking everywhere in the sky except the radiant point. The exception is when the constellation is low on the horizon and then you would focus on that part of the sky.
Photo of the constellation Leo courtesy of Til Credner at Wikimedia
When looking for shooting stars, there are some features to hope for. With the Leonids, sometimes you get different coloured shooting stars. In other meteor showers, you might be ones that break apart into several shooting stars, but these are rare with the Leonids.
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor with a green trail courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
Peak viewing times around Australia
The following times are for the optimal viewing periods on the evening of Friday November 17 and the morning of Saturday November 18. They will be roughly similar over the period of November 6 to 30. Though of course, the moon is the main variable that changes each day, so if you are planning a meteor-watching night, you should check information about the moon.
For the evening of November 17 and the morning of November 18, there will be no moon. So you don't have to worry about the moon at all for those days.
In both Sydney and Melbourne the peak viewing time is from 3 am to 5 am. Sunrise will be just before 6 am, so getting up early on Saturday morning may be the best way to view the shooting stars in these cities.
Brisbane and the northern part of Australia probably has the best opportunity to view the Leonids, with viewing times being optimal between 1 am to 4 am. But remember, sunrise will come at 4:47 am, and the sky will start to lighten before then.
In Adelaide, the best time to look for shooting stars is between 3:30 am to 5:30 am with sunrise at 6 am.
In Perth, the optimal viewing time starts at 2 am, but you would be better off getting up early than staying up late, with 4 am being the perfect time to see shooting stars across the whole sky. Sunrise will be at 5:07 am.
Photographing Meteor Showers
So you have bought a fancy DLSR or mirrorless camera and you want to have a go at obtaining a shooting photo. This is not hard, but it requires a great deal of luck and patience.
First of all, capturing a shooting star is all about speed. You need a fast camera and a fast lens. A standard lens has a lowest f value (that is fastest) of f/3.5. That should be okay, but ideally, you want a f/2.5 or f/2 lens on your camera.
How long you want the exposure depends. Most people start with a 10 to 25-second exposure. The longer the exposure the more of the star field and ambient light you capture, but too long and the stars and light will blot out the shooting stars.
Photograph of a Leonid Meteor and predawn light courtesy of Mike Lewinksi at Flickr
You need to setup your camera on a tripod. Shooting stars are way too fast to try and snap a shot when you see one, so it is better to use continuous shooting and then go back and check later to see if you captured a meteor.