Shooting stars and meteor showers are rare natural phenomena and a breathtaking sight to behold. Mankind has come very far from its humble beginnings and is replicating a lot of natural phenomena in their devices. Meteor showers are no exceptions. Japan has planned an artificial meteor shower for the year 2019.
The artificial shooting star project Sky Canvas is attempting to recreate these multi-colored meteor showers. They use miniature satellites to shoot special alloy ball bearings which burn on entry to the atmosphere and give a similar effect as that of a meteor shower.
The Solar System is full of debris even 5 million years after its creation. The main source of debris are the comets that are disturbed from the Kuiper and Oort belt from where they make their way into the inner solar system. These are captured by the planet Jupiter and start revolving around the sun and after years the ice melts away leaving dust and rubble. When Earth intersects with their orbit, they plummet into the atmosphere and burn up, giving rise to what we call meteor showers.
Sky Canvas, backed by Japan’s ALE Company and other partners, is replicating those meteor showers. Instead of finding those comets, the company uses a mini-satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit. This allows the satellite to pass over Earth at the same spot at the same time every day. This ensures that the meteors don’t arrive during the day.
The satellite carries 300 round pellets of a special metal alloy, the composition of which has not been revealed. These pellets are 1 cm in diameter and include different elements which cause them to burn in different colors. When you want to replicate an artificial meteor shower, these pellets hit the atmosphere at one-second intervals over a period of roughly 8 minutes. The satellite has an abort function if the weather is poor and the visibility is low.
These pellets burn at an altitude between 60 and 80 km from the earth’s surface and are visible over an area of 200 km in diameter. The cost of one meteor is $16,000 and the satellite itself will burn in the atmosphere due to orbital decay in almost 3 years.
This may sound like a fun sport for the extremely wealthy but ALE believes that these artificial meteors can be used not only for entertainment but for scientific research as well. As these are released in a controlled fashion, their angle of incidence, their velocity, and materials are known. This provides a unique opportunity to compare them with natural meteors and understand their characteristics. It will also help in understanding the Earth’s upper atmosphere better.
The first test will be conducted in the middle of 2019 over Hiroshima, Japan.
You can see the introduction of Sky Canvas, the company behind the artificial meteor shower in the video below: