Networking Meteors

May 11, 2009 — Leave a comment

I don’t normally talk about the daily APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) images from NASA becasue they are so popular and well annotated. Today’s has really caught my eye though.

Between 2007 and 2009, a group of amateur meteor enthusiasts in Japan got together to create a national network of over 100 connected video cameras. They used a piece of motion-detection software called UFOCapture (by a company called SonotaCo) which allows video recording from a few seconds before the trigger. This unprecedented network recorded not only 240,000 optically bright meteors over two years, but almost 40,000 meteors seen by more than one station.

The multiple-station events are particularly interesting because they enabled observers to trace the motion of the meteors back into the Solar System and say where they came from. Using this data they created the above radiant map. The map labels several known, seasonal meteor showers. This itself is kind of cool but the really interesting part is that they’re map revealed eleven further seasonal meteor shows that had not been known about before!

The eleven new showers were identified by new radiants on the sky from which meteors appear to flow. Research like this could potentially indicate some comets or asteroids that was hitherto unknown, but that as APOD says: ’that might one day pass close to the Earth’.

These kinds of data excessive projects really spark my imagination. they can only be achieved in this modern age of modest home-technological excess. By networking together their video cameras, these guys created something that was more than the sum of its parts.

The southern half of the sky is obviously still somewhat sparsely plotted. If there is an amateur group out there in South America, Australia, New Zealand or some such other antipodean location – then get on the case. You could be making discoveries of an entirely digital kind in the near future.

[Ongoing Meteor Work PDF from The Journal of the IMO, APOD on Twitter]

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