A cool wind blew off the Gulf of Mexico when photojournalist and commercial photographer Mark Wallheiser set his camera on a tripod near the water’s edge. He unfolded his camping chair, opened a cold beer, and settled in for a long night of stargazing.
Wallheiser spent Dec. 20 capturing long-exposure images of the Christmas Star, a bright light formed by the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, capturing a shooting star from the Ursid meteor shower in one of his images.
This year, the Ursid meteor shower will take place on the morning of December 22, but it could be seen in the sky anytime between December 17 and December 26, according to EarthSky.
The Ursids are often dwarfed by the Geminid meteor shower, which is more active earlier in the month, but is still a sight to behold.
It will be a bit low-key since the moonlight will dull most shooting stars, said Bill Cooke, director of NASA’s Office of the Meteor Environment. This is because the moon will remain visible for the most part after it is full on December 18.
Stargazers south of the equator who want to catch a glimpse of this shower will be out of luck. Ursids will only be visible in the northern hemisphere, Cooke said.
Cooke dubbed this meteor shower the “cursed ursids” because it is often overshadowed by Christmas, which means they look bad.
The meteors come from Comet 8P / Tuttle, he said. Their radiant, or where they appear to a terrestrial observer originating from the sky, is Ursa Minor, according to NASA. Most people know Ursa Minor as Ursa Minor.
Spectators can normally see about five meteors an hour, Cooke said, but because of the bright moonlight this year, people will be lucky if they see one or two an hour, Cooke explained.
Despite that hurdle, Wallheiser said he plans to take photos of the Ursids this year “because it’s so much better than watching TV.”
The freelance photographer has been shooting for 45 years and has searched for images of meteor showers and other celestial phenomena for much of that time. Wallheiser currently takes photos where he lives in Shell Point, a small town outside of Tallahassee, Florida.
How to watch the meteor shower
Whether you’re taking a mental or physical image of the meteor shower, it’s important to follow a few guidelines to get the best viewing experience.
Cooke recommended that stargazers find a dark place away from city lights so their eyes can adjust to the night sky. That includes not looking at his cell phone, he added.
He also suggested that viewers lie on their backs for the best stargazing experience.
For those hoping to take home a photographic souvenir, Wallheiser said a tripod and a camera with long exposure capabilities are a must. Stargazers should also have a fast lens, that is, f / 2.8 or faster, he added.
If you also want an object in your photo, it should have sky-like lighting, Wallheiser said.
In the end it all comes down to being patient.
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