A great meteor shower with brighter shooting stars
From the middle of the year to October, there is not much action astronomically in regards to shooting stars in the night sky over Australia, however, in October, things start picking up again with the Orionids Meteor Shower. With any luck at its peak on October 21 and 22, it will produce 20 or more quite bright shooting stars per hour. The best time will be about 1 to 2 hours before sunrise after the moon sets.
Photograph courtesy of Mike Lewinksi @ Flickr
About the Orionids
Most meteor showers are the dust and debris tails of comets, and the Orionids is from the dust tail of Hailey's comet as it makes it 70 plus year journey around the sun. Meteor showers occur when Earth runs into these dust particles at 100,000 km/h. It is this raw speed that makes the dust particles burn bright as they hit the atmosphere.
Photograph of Hailey's Comet Courtesy of W. Liller @ NASA
Normally a shooting star is nothing more than a speck of dust. Large fireballs will be as large as a grain of sand. The Orionids are most somewhere in between as they are brighter than many other meteor showers but with few fireballs.
Meteor Showers are named after their radiant point in the sky, which in this case is the constellation Orion. You can find Orion by looking at a star map app on your phone. Mostly I use Sky Map which you just point at the sky and it will show you the stars that the phone is pointing at. There are several other apps that are also available and most have almost identical features.
Image of the of constellation Orion courtesy of Till Credner at Wikimedia
Watching a Meteor Shower
Most shooting stars are fairly faint, and even though the Orionids can be brighter than some other showers, you will are unlikely to see any unless you get away from the city and other urban light pollution. Most people try to head to an open bushland area ideally with a view of the north and east horizons, though shooting stars can appear anywhere. It is a good excuse to go camping, I know some people who will hike up the mountains at night to get the best view. If the evening is warm enough, a secluded beach would be my favourite spot, because you can comfortably lie on the sand scanning the horizon.
First of all, get nice and comfortable. Looking at the sky can quickly give you a sore neck, so it is better to lie down. A nice lounge chair is often perfect. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness, so avoid all sorts of light, such as campfires, mobile phones and even those pesky smartwatches.
Below are the specific details for the major cities around Australia, but generally speaking the best time for looking for shooting stars is between midnight and dawn and with the Orionids in Australia, it is well above the horizon for most of these hours.
About the peak dates
To clarify, the peak dates is the time when you should get the most number of shooting stars, which in this case is the night of October 21 and the morning of October 22, with the most optimal viewing happening on the morning of October 22. However, the actual meteor shower runs from October 2 to November 7. With the 22nd being a Monday morning, most people will probably find it better to do their shooting star spotting on the Saturday night before, especially as this gives you more time between moonset and sunrise.
Specific Times and Locations for October 21/22
The following information is for the peak viewing night of October 21 to 22. The moon is going to be the biggest problem, being nearly full and setting around an hour before the sky becomes light. So generally speaking the best time will be to get up early before sunrise. The ideal spot will actually be somewhere where there is a hill or mountain to the west to block the moonlight but also have a clear view to the north and the east.
In Brisbane, the moon will set at 3:40 am and the sun will rise at 5:06 am. So you should get a good hour or more of meteor shower watching in before the sky becomes too light. The largest concentration of shooting stars will be in the northern sky at this time.
In Sydney, the moon will go below the horizon at 4:52 am and the sun will rise at 6:06 am. Daylight savings will definitely make getting out of bed early to watch shooting stars easier.
The moon sets in Melbourne at 5:20 am and the sun rises at 6:26 am. The shorter time between moonset and sunrise really limits your time to watch the meteor shower.
Adelaide is similar to Melbourne with the moon setting at 5:14 am and the sun rising at 6:25 am. Hopefully, you should get at least 30 minutes to scan a fully dark sky.
Over in Perth, the moon will set at 4:15 am and the sun will rise at 5:29 am.
Photographing shooting stars
Of all the night sky photography that you can try, the most challenging is photographing a shooting star. This is because they are fairly faint, move quickly and can turn up unpredictably anywhere in the night sky.
You will need the following things. A good camera, such as a DLSR or mirrorless camera. A tripod is important to keep the camera steady. The lens is also a factor, with the faster the lens the better. Typically most lenses have the lowest f value of f/3.5, but if you can get one, a faster lens, such as an f/2.5 or f/2 lens, would be ideal.
The process is to set up your camera on a tripod. The lens is set to the lowest f stop and you want exposures of about 10 to 25 seconds. You probably should take a few photos beforehand to see how much of the star field you capture with various settings. The longer the exposure the more of the star field you will capture, but that can drown out any shooting stars you photograph.
You can set your camera to take a continuous series of photos with the hope that you will capture a shooting star in the photo. That reminds me, to photograph a shooting star, you also need one other thing, a great deal of luck.