It is really hard to photograph a meteor. Even though some 25 million of them hurtle toward Earth each day, most of them are too small to track. Those you can see are tough to spot during the day, and most people are sleeping when they streak across the sky at night. But Prasenjeet Yadav managed to get one anyway, entirely by accident.
Yadav was asleep when this bright green meteor exploded over Mettupalayam, a small town in the mountainous Western Ghats region of southern India. But the time-lapse rig he’d set up on a nearby hilltop captured this beautiful image.
He didn’t set out to be a photographer. He was born in Nagpur, roughly 35 miles from the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and tigers and leopards routinely wandered through his yard. He studied big cats as a molecular biologist, but had the sense that most people didn’t read, let alone understand, academic papers. If people are to understand science, he thought, they have to see it. And so he became a photographer.
Yadav won a National Geographic Young Explorers grant to document “sky islands,” the isolated mountain peaks that rise above the clouds along a 400-mile swath of the Western Ghats. He wanted a nighttime shot of Mettupalayam to show the area’s urbanization. In the wee hours of October 9, 2015, Yadav drove into the mountains, set up his Nikon D600, and programmed it to take 15 second exposures every 10 seconds until 4:30 am. Then he made camp and dozed until dawn.
The next day, he reviewed the thousand or so images on his camera and spotted a brilliant flash of emerald light. At first he thought it was a fluke, but several astronomers confirmed that it was a meteor. It’s a perfect shot. “I was there, and that’s what photography is all about—being there in the right place at the right time,” Yadav says. That, and a bit of luck.