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New Startup Wants Us Wishing on (Man-Made) Shooting Stars

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 to Agence 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, reports Phys.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.”

[via iflscience]

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This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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