The Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) selected three new sites, all in Florida, to host All Sky Fireball Network cameras — Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the Robinson Observatory at the University of Central Florida and the Beach Corrosion Facility at NASA Kennedy Space Center. Installation occurred in October.
MEO uses these cameras to gather data on fireballs, or meteors brighter than the planet Venus, and then characterize them for government and public awareness. (Learn more about these efforts in “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Fireball.”) These cameras allow the MEO team to observe both big events (fireballs) as well as little events that happen every night. This information then feeds back into the office’s meteoroid environment models, leading to improvements in meteor shower forecasts.
The placement of three cameras in Florida within a 40-90 mile radius allows MEO team members to capture fireballs from all angles and compute the meteors’ trajectories.
“We want the field of view of the cameras to overlap so the same meteor is recorded by multiple cameras, which allows us to calculate meteor trajectories and orbits,” said Danielle Moser, meteoroid physicist, Jacobs ESSSA Group, Marshall Space Flight Center.
Selecting Camera Locations
Often, MEO picks camera locations based on who volunteers; organizations contact the team to propose their site as a camera location. However, the team doesn’t like to place just one camera in an area and needs to find one to two more locations to provide sufficient overlap to calculate good meteor trajectories.
In this case, an investigator from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University reached out to Meteoroid Environment Program Manager Bill Cooke to express interest in hosting a camera at the university. The investigator proposed the University of Central Florida as a potential second location as well. Some research then showed Kennedy as a good match for a third camera.
Combined, these three cameras cover a good portion of Florida’s sky. Since fireballs are most commonly reported by the public in highly populated areas (because there are more people available to spot and report them) the cameras’ locations surrounding Orlando, Florida, are ideal as it allows the team to align camera footage with reports.
The Kennedy location also presents a unique opportunity:
“One of the things we’re looking forward to is we’ll be able to see some launches and capture footage,” said Aaron Kingery, instrumentation specialist, Jacobs ESSSA Group, Educator Resource Center, Marshall Space Flight Center.
After selecting hosts for cameras, the team then has to decide where specifically on those properties to place them.
“One thing that we got to do this time around is that we visited the sites before selecting and deploying the cameras,” said Moser.
Often, the team has to rely on the chosen hosts to send pictures or videos to help them choose the specific location. Getting to check out a few options at each location in person reduces the likelihood of issues once the cameras are in place.
According to Kingery, one of the biggest problems the team experiences is glare from streetlights. Other issues include trees blocking the camera lens, radio interference, or poor access to power or internet for capturing the data. In one unique situation, the camera ran completely off solar power, but after a cloudy day, the camera failed to capture anything that night due to a lack of power. In these cases the MEO team simply makes changes to address the issues — that is a team member moves the camera, plugs it in, etc.
Where to Next?
The team hopes to add to its existing 14 cameras (17 with the addition of these three in Florida) by finding locations in the Northeast that cover some of the major population centers like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
Most often, MEO partners with schools (everything from elementary schools to universities), science centers, observatories and planetariums. The team does have a list of site requirements that locations must meet. The cost to organizations is minimal, as MEO loans the chosen sites the camera and required computer (the organization supplies the location, power and internet). Interested parties can fill out a site proposal form and send it to Cooke or simply contact him directly.