Here is a unique citizen-science project related to finding meteorites, as described in an e-mail that I received yesterday…
My name is Mike Mazur, and I’m a Canadian geoscientist (with a background in astrophysics) living in Norway. I have a keen interest in near-Earth objects, fireballs, and meteorites and this has led me to start an initiative that may be of potential interest to homeschooling communities.
The project, is a fully crowdpowered initiative designed to get people to look up at the sky and gain a better understanding of just how common it is for small asteroids and meteoroids to impact the Earth. The idea is that we will create inexpensive all-sky fireball cameras, link them together as a global network, and provide the results of small impacts (where to find meteorites) in near-real-time. At the same time, we’ll also do some really neat science, as less than 12 of the 30,000 meteorites (larger than 100g) that fall on the Earth each year are recovered. If we can significantly increase the recovery rate, we’ll have made an impact, together with the citizen scientists that are making the project happen.
The reason that I’m contacting you is that I feel that there are some rather unique learning opportunities available to those that want to take part in the project. From the building of a camera system to analyzing the data that comes out of it, there is a great deal available to kids and adults of any age.
For learning groups, we plan to put together a series of lessons (scroll to the end to see some ideas) covering key learnings that can be made by studying fireballs. We have friends and colleagues in all of these disciplines working at different universities, government institutions, private industry, and in education around the world and we plan to invite them to author lessons for us. We also encourage anyone else who might be interested to provide lessons of their own that they feel can help others. Initially, our lessons will be drafted in English but we can also translate to Norwegian, German, and Spanish if required.
To take part, we encourage people to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign.
In return, you can receive a number of perks such as meteorite kits or complete fireball systems. For us, it is these contributions that will make the project possible. They will allow us to fund the development of the project to the stage at which we can opensource it and get even more people involved. Of course it’s not always possible to contribute, so we also encourage people to spread the links to our campaign through their social networks.
One final thing, I’ve pledged that I would donate a camera to a school for the first 10 cameras that are pre-ordered through our campaign. I’ll extend that to homeschoolers and say that I’ll also send an extra camera out for the first 10 homeschoolers that pre-order cameras. They just need to send me a note to let me know that they’ve contributed.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. And, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to discuss them at any time.
Some examples of things that can be learned from the project…
Math – Once a fireball is captured on video, we need to calculate it’s relative position as it moves across the sky. With a narrow field-of-view, this is relatively easy, but, things get a bit more complicated when we consider the fisheye image that an all-sky camera acquires. From the videos collected by the camera system, students can learn about cartesian and spherical coordinate systems and how to transform data between the two. With data from two or more cameras, students also learn how to find the true path of the fireball through the atmosphere using triangulation. And, once the path and velocity of the fireball is known, they can calculate its orbit around the sun.
Physics – Students can learn about how objects move when subjected to different forces (gravity, atmospheric drag, wind)by studying the fireball’s trajectory. The can also learn about what causes the object to burst and why a meteorite is nearly always cold by the time it reaches the ground.
Meteorology – As a small asteroid passes through our atmosphere, it gets ‘pushed’ around by winds. These winds change in both speed and direction at different heights and can have a great effect on where meteorites land on the surface of the Earth. Students can also learn about how pressures and temperatures change through the different atmospheric levels and the influence that they have on the trajectory of a fireball and the meteorites that land on the ground.
Astronomy & Planetary Science – Since these cameras spend all of their time looking up at the sky above, they can create nice snapshots of how the apparent positions of stars change with the Earth’s rotation. By creating images of stars with their all-sky cameras, students learn how to perform a ‘stellar calibration’ to calculate the orientation of their camera. This very important step then allows us to calculate the trajectory and orbit of the original asteroid. From that, we then know where it came from and make some good guesses at what it might have been made of.
(Astro)Geology – Since we’re talking about meteorites, a better term might be meteoritics. In any case, there is a lot that can be learned about how meteorites form, what they’re made of, and where they come from. And, when we start to consider martian and lunar meteorites, we can learn about the forces that shape not only Mars and the Moon, but also our own planet.
Computer Science – The software that we’re writing is going to be released as opensource code. This means that anyone will be able to work on it, learn from it, and improve it. And the hardware that it runs on, is the Raspberry Pi (a credit card sized, educational micro-computer costing about $35). This is an amazing platform for tinkering and learning and, we feel, great for kids of all ages.
Physical Education – It might seem like a bit of a stretch to include Phys Ed when talking about what can be learned from the use of fireball cameras, but, I’d like to suggest that it can also be good exercise. If two or more cameras in your area see a bright fireball, it may be possible to get a good idea of where meteorites have landed. With this information, we encourage people to then go out and look for the freshly fallen meteorites. Getting kids (and adults) out in the field searching for something from outer space is a great way to keep active and fit.