Meteor science has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past ten years. The predictive power of current models (the so-called meteor forecasting) has given us the exact timing of the Leonid storms of 2001 and 2002 to the nearest hour and are now used to predict the arrival times of major annual showers such as the Perseids.
Major problems, however remain; for example:
The answer to all these questions, and many mores may be summarised in the following: we need more round-the-clock sky coverage. Most of the meteor observations carried out to-date are still done visually with more sophisticated techniques like video, spectroscopy etc reserved for major showers. To see and understand Earth's meteor environment in its full complexity, we need to apply these methods on an all-night, every-night basis.
Towards this goal, the Observatory has installed a sky-monitoring system, consisting of one medium angle (MA) and two wide-angle (WA) video cameras linked to software designed to detect motion. When an "event" takes place, a short clip of it is digitally stored on hard disc and examined the following morning. The cameras are set to point at an altitude of approx. 60 degrees, and at azimuths of 60 (ENE), 150 (SSE) and 330 (NNW) degrees respectively.
The NE (MA) camera is special; it monitors the same volume of space as an identical camera operated by amateur astronomer Robert Cobain in Bangor (near Belfast). The aim here is to capture meteor trails in three dimensions, so-called double station meteors. These are worth their weight in gold (albeit a few tenths of a gram!), since it is possible to reconstruct the orbits of these meteors in space without making any assumptions on speed, direction etc.
For some examples of the variety of phenomena, meteors or otherwise, that the cameras have captured during their first two months of operation go to here.
Last Revised: 2009 November 5th