Artificial meteor showers could light up our night skies, and give meteorologists a perfect tool for examining our atmosphere.
image via (cc) flickr user kahuna
Usually when scientists launch satellites into space, the goal is to keep them there. When a rocket explodes, or a piece of tech wobbles unexpectedly out of its orbit, they regard it as a failure, and are forced to regroup. Time and means permitting, they relaunch a replacement in its wake. As we saw with the recent SpaceX rocket failure, the science of putting things into space and making sure they stay there is very much a field still in progress. For one startup, though, having their product fall back to Earth isn’t a sign of poor planning, or mechanical failure—it’s their goal.
Imagine celebrating a birthday, wedding, or anniversary party and knowing that at a predetermined time the sky will be illuminated with perfectly-formed shooting stars, streaking across the horizon, just for you. That’s exactly what Lena Okajima hopes to deliver someday soon. While natural celestial light shows like the Perseids and Leonids can be predicted with a fairly high degree of accuracy, Okajima plans to take matters into her own hands, using micro satellites and a secret chemical combination, to create artificial meteor showers for anyone who thinks fireworks just wouldn’t cut it for their high-end party.
Okajima’s company ALE has been collaborating with a number of Japanese universities to develop a system by which a small satellite would be placed into orbit nearly 300 miles above our planet, and programmed to release clusters of chemical-packed pellets at a given time, over a given coordinate. Those pellets would then burn up in our atmosphere, and—voilá—man-made meteors which, depending on the pellets’ chemical composition, could be made to give off varying colors at different levels of brightness.
image via (cc) flickr user davidkingham
Okajima, who has a doctorate in astronomy herself, explained toAgence France-Presse: “I'm thinking of streams of meteors that are rare in nature. It is artificial but I want to make really beautiful ones that can impress viewers.” And while the prospect of a perfectly formed, perfectly timed, barrage of artificial shooting stars is certainly appealing from an aesthetic standpoint, there’s a scientific upshot, as well. Artificial meteors can be released with regularity, giving astronomers and meteorologists a reliable time and place to take measurements as the pellets streak to Earth, helping shed light on certain difficult-to-measure areas of our planet’s atmosphere.
ALE is currently still in the design phase of the project, reportsPhys.org, and has a ways to go before Okajima’s dream of man-made meteors are a reality. Scientific progress aside, should ALE’s artificial shooting stars achieve lift off, they will likely cost upwards of eight thousand dollars apiece, making them an expensive luxury (albeit one with some genuinely useful scientific applicability). Still, it’s one which promises spectacle on a scale that would put any IMAX movie theater to shame.
As Okajima puts it: “Making the sky a screen is this project's biggest attraction as entertainment. It's a space display.”