Cheaper Meteor Video Cameras

A new type of video camera has potential to make it cheaper to get involved in video detection of meteors.

Until recently, most video detection of meteors was done using relatively costly security cameras and specialist software as explained on the SPA website here. This has worked well and is widely used all round the world  however the equipment can cost around £600 for a first camera and this can be quite a barrier to participation.  That may be about to change.

A few years ago the Croatian Meteor Network team presented a paper at a conference in Austria proposing the use of a Raspberry Pi and opensource software in place of the Windows PC and proprietary software normally used. This idea, coupled with cheaper more sensitive camera chip technology, has now come to fruition and is being tested out in the UK and Belgium amongst other countries.

The basic kit consists of a Sony IMX291 chip and lens, Raspberry Pi3, power supplies for both and power-over-ethernet connectors for the camera. The camera is very small and can easily be fitted into a small CCTV housing such as the Genie TPH1500 or even something smaller. Software provided by the Croatian team runs on the Pi, performing video capture, analysis and upload in realtime. The video is stored in a compressed format resulting in much smaller files than UFOCapture, but other output files are UFO-Orbit compatible so the data can still be collated with other stations using the older technology.

Complete kits can be bought direct from the Global Meteor Network team for about €400 and so are cheaper than the Watec/UFOCapture based approach but still quite pricey.  However it is also possible to buy all the parts yourself if you feel competent to put it together. As of March 2019 the complete set of parts can be bought online via Amazon and Aliexpress for about £120 plus the cost of a housing (c. £40 for the TPH1500). This compares very favourably to the Watec/UFOCapture system!

Three members of UKMON are currently trialling the new system and early indications are good. Chris Dakin from UKMON has written a preliminary report which can be read here, and your Section Director Mark McIntyre is assembling a camera from parts. Meanwhile our colleagues in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands have successfully put the camera design into service and Paul Roggemans’ report can be found here. The images below are taken from Chris’ report.

Side by side comparison. The new camera is higher resolution, more sensitive and has a wider field of view. Images courtesy of Chris Dakin, UKMON
Side by side comparison. The new camera has higher resolution, is more sensitive and has a wider field of view. Images courtesy of Chris Dakin, UKMON

So video detection of meteors might be about to become much more accessible if the camera holds up to its promise – and you are up for a little DIY !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *