Art: Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Edwin Church, Public Domain Art courtesy of Judith Filenbaum Hernstadt
Space is the Place
No shortage of brilliant scientists have pondered our place in the universe. Theories of the governing laws of physics of our own solar system and the broader universe abound, and we all continue to marvel at the many mysteries of our world and its place in outer space.
While we may not all be astrophysicists or astronomers, we can all appreciate the wonders of our skies. I recently had a most amazing experience: I witnessed a large, bright meteor shoot aflame across the sky, trailing its tail of sparks. This was many times larger and brighter than a shooting star, unmistakably a meteor, also known as a fireball. I stumbled across the American Meteor Society website, and was delighted to find I could report a fireball sighting.
When enough witnesses report seeing a fireball, it’s classified into an event. The collective information provided through these acts of citizen science is used to triangulate the meteor’s trajectory and gather additional information. Events are tracked in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which you will need to convert to know your local time of meteor events.
NASA operates a network of cameras to track meteors classified as fireballs (those brighter than Venus). Daily results of their orbits and velocity are compiled and published daily on Spaceweather.com. If you witness a fireball, once you know the UT, you can use this to follow up with the NASA data. You may find photos and video of the event, more details, as well as a compiled image of all fireballs’ orbits detected on that date as shown above.
More Citizen Science
If you find all this fascinating and would like to help and explore in a different way, you can classify stars from among the database at SCOPE (Stellar Classification Online Public Exploration). Data on more than one million stars is available, and some have never yet been classified. Using guidelines provided, you could be the very first person to measure the temperature of a star. All your stars’ data is available to review in your account.
There’s always more to discover and it’s exciting to know our observations can be put to collective use to inform scientific data and learn even more about our place in the grander scheme.