What are Telescopic Meteors?
Telescopic meteor observing is exactly what the name implies – observing meteors using telescopes. A lot of amateurs and professionals enjoy watching meteors without equipment. However, many observers like to go deeper, and that is precisely why telescopes are so great. Those who turn to telescopic observing usually employ telescopes or binoculars. This type of observation is highly demanding. It is not easy to stand motionless and observe through the eyepiece one field for more than thirty minutes. Nevertheless, telescopic observations are very appealing to some observers. They are the key to providing vital information about meteors that contribute to the science of meteors.
Before you embark on your telescopic meteor adventure, it is advisable you first inform yourself about other forms of observing. More precisely, you should first learn the ropes of unaided eye meteor observing. For that, you will need to gather knowledge on meteor plotting, which is a very useful technique for tracking meteors.
Now that we determined that you are interested in telescopic meteor observations, we will begin discussing unaided eye observations. The first item on the list is meteor plotting. What meteor plotting essentially means is that, before you start your observation, you must first decide what you will be watching. In other words, you start by plotting what you will be observing.
The reason for this is simple: it is very difficult to convey and register everything you see through the eyepiece. Your best weapons are your eyes, but it might become a hassle if you wish to record everything. At best, you will begin by counting meteors, and that has often proved to be very fun. However, it is not backed up with science. This often requires more than one observer and a collection of historical data to back you up. Even today, there is no valid method for calibrating and analysing meteor rates that have been seen using the eyepiece. That is why you need a group of active observers to assist you in measuring fluxes of fainter meteors.
Therefore, plotting is the most important step in your career as an observer. Shower association at the eyepiece is sometimes quite problematic. That is why amateur observers are advised not to make shower associations right at the eyepiece. The best way to conduct thorough and valid research is to plot what you see. By plotting what you see relative to the star background, you achieve precision and accuracy. Or at least, a higher level of accuracy than without plotting. While assessing shower assignment, you can always apply objective criteria to the plotted trails of meteors. The best thing about this method is that you can alter criteria if you need to. This is not possible with on-the-spot decisions.
Tips for Better Observations
Tracking meteors via telescopes or binoculars might be tricky for a complete novice. You must pay attention to many details, so it can be a bit overwhelming at first. If you want to become an expert in telescopic meteor observation, we have a few useful tips for you.
The first thing you should pay attention to is the angle of observation. Do not point your instrument straight to the shower radiant. The unaided eye generally has a wider field of view than telescopes. That is why some visual observers adjust the center of vision to large shower radiant (if the shower is prolific). For telescopes, it is best to adjust it to observe a field 15 to 25 degrees away from the radiant.
Telescopic observations also yield less material than visual observations. You will see fewer meteors with your telescope than through unaided eye observation. The difference between these two methods is most notable with faint meteor showers like Perseids. In terms of rates, the telescopic rate is 20% to 50% lower than the visual rate with trained and experienced observers.
Our last piece of advice for telescopic observations involves equipment. For your meteor inspections, you can use both telescopes and binoculars. Use an instrument that best suits you. However, this applies to both telescopes and binoculars: the instrument must be mounted. That is the key to a successful observation! During observations, you mostly stay still for long periods. That is why you must find a comfortable position where you do not have to hold the instrument all the time. If you hold it, you will soon get tired, and you might potentially endanger your observation.
Getting Started with Telescopic Meteors
There are three main steps towards telescopic meteor observation expertise for you. The first step for you involves getting to know visual observation counts. Start by learning about constellations and the basics of meteor observation. Explore magnificent showers, and learn interesting meteor facts. You will also need to explore the limiting magnitude of your telescopes. The Sky & Telescope magazine has an excellent article on limiting magnitude and a calculator where you can estimate the magnitude of your telescope. Once you become well-versed in the science of meteors, it is time to move to the next step.
The next step takes you straight to visual plotting. For this, you should start plotting when there is no active major meteor shower. To formulate your plans more precisely, you can consult gnomonic star charts. The standard set of charts can be obtained from the International Meteor Organization.
After you complete both steps, you are officially ready for telescopic observations. It will be difficult, it will be demanding, but do not worry, it is more than worth it. Do not be discouraged if you do not encounter substantial results in the beginning. The more experienced you get, the better the results will be.
If you want to read more about telescopic meteor observations and learn how it influenced science, visit IMO. The International Meteor Organization is an excellent source of information for all types of observations. You will even find a page specially dedicated to telescopic observations.
For visual observations, the American Meteor Society has prepared a collection of useful information that might be of interest to you. You can also consult our FAQ page in case you have more questions about meteor observations.