Crowdfunding an automagic #meteorite finder?

On December 24, 2013 by Mike

Ok, so the title might be a little misleading. I’m not going to guarantee that our latest crowdfunding project will find meteorites for you but it most definitely can make the job much easier (and more fun).

Cut to the chase… Go straight to the Campaign.

FireballInfographic1So what is it? Well from the past few blog articles that I’ve written on this site, it should be clear that, in order to find meteorites after a bright fireball, we need observations. They could be eyewitness reports, photos, video, seismic, or infrasound data. We don’t really care, as long as they are numerous and accurate. We often have numerous eyewitness reports, but, they have a problem. They are typically inaccurate and only give us a general sense of the path of the fireball.  It’s enough to get us started ,but, what we’d really like, is a permanent record  with reliable reference points. A photograph, maybe? If the photo has stars in it or a fixed reference in the frame, we are able to calibrate the image and come up with solutions that can be many thousand times more accurate than the typical eyewitness report. Even better, is a video record of the passage of the fireball. Again, we need a fixed reference. But if we have that, then we also have additional information that we couldn’t get from a single still photo. And, this is where our iOnSky/Project Heimdal work comes in – taking videos of fireballs with inexpensive cameras at a great many locations around the globe.

Project Heimdal is software that will allow an all-sky camera to connect to a central clearinghouse of fireball observations. It will make automatic detections and relay that data to the central server where it will be compared to other observations so that a trajectory solution can be made. With an accurate trajectory, we can then say something about where any possible meteorites may have landed.

MontsecCameraScreengrab1_400But why? There are two drivers here. One is that this will make a very cool crowdpowered science initiative. In order to make it work, we need lots of cameras run by citizen scientists. We need people to take an active role in developing the network to make it a success. And if people are looking up more often we may just make some significant discoveries together. Which brings us to the second driver. Roughly 30,000 meteorites larger than 100g fall on the surface of the Earth each year. Fewer than a dozen of these falls are recovered which means that there is a lot of room for improvement. Improvement that we feel can come with more cameras focused on the sky. Can we improve our discovery rate by an order of magnitude? I don’t really know but I do think that Project Heimdal could be key to finding out.

And if that’s not reason enough, here are a few more…


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