I’ve been working on research in meteor astronomy for many years; you can see a summary of some of my work on this page. Now I have come up with a new idea for something that has never been done in meteor astronomy: a spatial analysis of meteor distributions. For all of history, meteor observations have consisted of temporal records of meteor appearances at a single point. In other words, the observer lies down on the ground, looks up, and records the time of every meteor they see. In the last ten or fifteen years, this has been enhanced in two ways. First, they’re now using image intensifiers (night-vision scopes) to record fainter meteors; second, they’re just now starting to set up networks of a few of these devices widely spaced so that they can get three-dimensional calculations on individual meteors.
What I am proposing takes advantage of two new technologies: small programmable devices (iPads, iPhones, and other smart devices) and the Internet. I tried this a few years ago with laptops, but it was still a bit too clumsy to work. Moreover, I started late and didn’t get enough publicity in time. This time, I’m not making that mistake. I am setting up for the 2012 Perseid meteor shower on the morning of August 13th, 2012. The basic plan is to rewrite some software I wrote for the 2010 Perseids, so that the software will work on lots of different portable programmable devices. Then we get lots of people all over North America (and maybe even Europe or East Asia) to watch the Perseids using our software. The software is quite simple: it accepts four spoken inputs: “Start”; “Meteor”, “Undo”; and “End”. It acknowledges each command with the phrase “OK ____”, where “____” is the recognized command. It records the time of starting, ending, and each meteor reported, accurate to one second. Then in the morning it automatically emails the report (including the GPS location of the observer at the time) to our central email address. When we get it, we pool all the data from all the people and assemble a continent-wide map of where and when the meteors fell. What we’re hoping to see is a pattern of waves sweeping from southeast to northwest across the continent. What we know about meteor streams suggests that such waves MIGHT be real. Unfortunately, the Perseid stream is rather old, and so such waves might well have been washed out over time. This is our chance to investigate the matter.
If you’d like to see more about the project and how you can participate at whatever level interests you (including design, programming, analysis or observation), check out this link: