UK Video Meteor Detection Networks Reach Major Milestone

From: Steve Bosley, Vice Chairman, Hampshire Astronomical Group at Clanfield Observatory.

The UK’s meteor detection networks have now passed half a million detections! 

In mid 2012 two meteor detection networks were being setup independently in the north and south of the UK. Those two networks were NEMETODE (co-founded by William Stewart and Alex Pratt) and UKMON (co-founded by Richard Kacerek and Peter Campbell Burns), and they have grown significantly in the nearly seven years since.

The earliest observations in the database were made by William from Ravensmoor, Cheshire in October 2010 and subsequently, the first match recorded was between two NEMETODE cameras on 14th April 2012 at 22:30:20 between William’s camera and Alex’s camera at Leeds, Yorkshire.

The first inter-network observation was of a Perseid on 9th August 2012 at 21:49:02 UTC, although the match wasn’t recognised at the time.  For the record, it was made by Alex’s NEMETODE camera in Leeds, and Peter’s UKMON camera in Church Crookham, Hampshire :

Wind the clock forward to April 2019 and together, those two networks have just posted their 500,000th observation. To be fair, observers in Eire and Northern France have contributed significantly to this haul, but I think we can let that  complication pass and celebrate the achievement. Also, I should admit that my scripts had missed a couple of sets of early data and so it is fair to say that by the end of April we had smashed it with a whopping 545,737 observations!

The following radiant map (colour coded by arrival velocity) shows there have been meteors from all across the northern skies, and over all but the extremities of the British Isles in the equivalent ground map:

Individual stations have come and gone, cameras have been added, moved, removed, and/or upgraded but the undeniable fact is that the two networks are now delivering almost complete coverage of the UK skies, maximising the number of captures achieved. In fact there have been contributions from at least 123 individual camera installations. This data is used by amateurs such as myself to analyse the orbits of the parent meteoroids but, more significantly, it is  shared with the Europe wide network, EDMONd, to enable a much less weather dependent analysis (it can be frustrating when strong shower activity is anticipated, but the whole of the UK is clouded out!)

At Clanfield, we were an early participant in the UKMON network – indeed, we made the first UKMON pairing between our North camera and Peter’s Church Crookham camera on 5th September  2012 at 01:35:44 UTC.

Very early on I realised the opportunity afforded by membership of both networks. Whilst they began with a distinct north/south focus, as they grew the overlap quickly became more and more significant.

There were early concerns that we would be mixing higher and lower definition captures which might affect the quality of combined results, but I wasn’t so sure and so HAG decided to buy a Watec camera and join NEMETODE too – the original UKMON cameras were selected to be affordable and used cameras with 1/3rd inch chips, whereas the NEMETODE Watec cameras were significantly more expensive but used ½ inch chips, so offering better resolution. NB.  eBay has since reduced that price differential.

Worst case scenario, we would share Watec data with NEMETODE only and the data from the other two cameras, with UKMON only. But from day one we have shared data from all cameras with both networks, to the benefit of both.

Having access to the data from both networks has meant that we have had to respect the ownership of  the data mined from each network, and over the years I have developed scripts to enable me to analyse each network’s data separately. However, bringing the data together into a single UK wide dataset allows me to take advantage of the very significant overlap that the two networks now enjoy. The science behind the capture of these videos is down to statistics, and the quality of the analysis is directly proportional to the number of observations of each and every event. More and more observers are joining both networks and I can only see this trend increasing.

What of the quality of the data ? Qualitatively, there is no difference. When I chart the count of observations which meet the most stringent quality threshold (Q3 in the Sonotaco UFO Orbit software parlance) it is impossible to spot which data is captured by NEMETODE stations and which by UKMON stations (the Q3 counts are normalised by considering their ratio to the total observations (at Q1)  for each camera:

In truth, this chart hides the fact that some cameras may be more preferentially aligned with others and so it would be interesting to repeat the analysis for all pairs of stations, but it is clear that there is no technology divide, and so I am happy that all UK observations are equally valid.

Over those seven years, every so often, we have captured some pretty spectacular fireballs – the highlight having to be the St Patrick’s Day fireball from 2016. This made the national press and because it was captured by  several captures, we were able to get some detailed analysis done by our friend Jakub Koukal of EDMONd who determined its mass (50+/-16kg) and orbit (stretching beyond Jupiter, so no residual meteorite expected):

Before closing, it should be recognised that these were not the first attempts. There were other “early pioneers”  active across the British Isles from the 1970s, and in the 1990s Andrew Elliott pioneered amateur video meteor astronomy triangulating with Steve Evans, Tim Haymes et al. And in the late 1990s Alex ran a camera matching with Len Entwisle.

Also, there are other ongoing collaborations between Robert Cobain and Armagh Observatory that pre-dates UKMON & NEMETODE by some years.

 

We certainly won’t have to wait seven years before we can celebrate the one millionth meteor observation over the British Isles. News of the science that can be extracted from such simple capture systems is spreading. New members are joining each network all the time – including some significant players  such as the Natural History Museum and at least one secondary school (this is a great tool for promoting STEM subjects). The technology is changing too – several keen “techies” are experimenting with more sensitive cameras and Raspberry Pi systems to see if they have the resilience of the proven systems in operation today.

I’m not a huge fan of social media, but I can’t help being impressed by the way that UKMON engage the public with their twitter feed and live feed from cameras. Scientifically, I think we still have some way to go – dark flight calculations are complex and there haven’t been any killer papers published yet, but the dozen or so that have been published, by both networks, have set the bar. With other professional and amateur groups (such as Jim Rowe’s SCAMP network) deploying  all sky cameras, the game is on to identify a fireball that survives the earth’s atmosphere so that the surviving meteorite can be recovered for analysis. Hence the interest of the Natural History Museum (amongst others).

Will a meteorite fall be retrieved in the UK before we get to one million observations ? Almost certainly!

 

List of Abbreviations used:

EDMONd: European viDeo Meteor Observation Network
HAG: Hampshire Astronomical Group (www.hantsastro.org.uk)
NEMETODE: NEtwork for MEteor Triangulation and Orbit Determination (www.nemetode.org)
SCAMP: System for Capture of Asteroid and Meteorite Paths (www.scamp.org.uk)
STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
UKMON: United Kingdom Meteor Observation Network (www.ukmeteornetwork.co.uk)

Daylight Meteor over Russia

Russia seems to get more than its fair share of fireballs, and this time a daytime meteor was picked up on multiple dashcams on 6th April over the city of Krasnoyarsk in the southeastern part of the country.

The meteor is believed to be asteroidal in origin and about 1-2 m in diameter. NASA estimated a velocity of 40m/s.

A video compilation is available on Youtube here

Russia does in fact get a lot of meteor detections. This is simply because of its land-area. Seventy percent of the world is water and so many meteors go unnoticed, falling far out at sea. Of those that do pass over land, many pass over uninhabited areas such as the arctic and antarctic. Russia however is the largest country in the world by area, and so its statistically more likely to be the “target” of observed events.

Bright Fireball over the UK!

At 03.52 on the 30th of March 2019 a very bright fireball was detected by a number of observers around the UK. As well as visual observations, the fireball was picked up by multiple stations in the UKMON & NEMETODE networks and by the newly-installed Scamp system. The video below shows the view from one of my meteor cameras in Oxfordshire.

Scientific Analysis

Multiple detections enabled quite detailed analysis of the object. William Stewart of NEMETODE calculated that the object weighed between 190 and 330g, was of asteroidal origin and was between 36 and 60mm in size. The flight path and the meteoroid’s original orbit were also calculated (see below).

This is a great example of the real science that can be done with meteors, and of great collaboration between UKMON, NEMETODE and Scamp to help generate that science.

Now, if only one of these would fall over land….

Mark McIntyre, Meteor Section Director

Data collected by Nick James, Jim Rowe, William Stewart, Mark McIntyre and others.

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 !

NASA reports huge meteor over Barents Sea

NASA has reported that last December, military satellites detected a huge fireball over the Barents Sea.

The meteor entered the atmosphere on 18th December 2018 travelling at about 30 km/s. It was probably several metres in diameter and exploded with an energy equivalent of about 170 kilotons , which makes it one of the largest meteors to enter our atmosphere this century and about 40% as large as the Chelyabinsk event.  It broke up about 25km  over the Barents Sea between the USA and Russia.  It wasn’t reported earlier as this is a quite remote area, and the military satellite data was not made available earlier.

A video showing the smoke trail has been constructed from satellite data was posted on twitter :

 

More information on the BBC website here