Scientists in France have launched FRIPON, a unique interconnected network using cameras to watch the sky and search for meteorites.
By the end of the year the system will be using 100 cameras in regions across France, making it one of the biggest meteor-spotting networks in the world. Sixty cameras have already been in operation since the end of May.
Meteors are seen when bits of asteroid, comet or other planetary material streak through Earth’s atmosphere. Most fireballs and smaller meteors usually disintegrate totally when they enter the terrestrial atmosphere. However, a larger incoming chunk of extraterrestrial material will sometimes produce a meteorite that falls to Earth.
And if people pick this space rock up, scientists can then reconstruct the meteorites’ path to reveal where in the Solar System it came from.
There are currently around five to nine cameras set up to track meteorites per region, and they’re about 50 to 100 kilometres away from one another.
Located in places such as roofs of observatories, universities, natural history and other museums and scientific outreach associations, the cameras have a 360-degree view of the sky.
They’re connected to computers so when a meteorite detection takes place, a signal is sent to Université Paris-Sud, and data can then be collected in real-time.
“This setup allows us to detect incoming objects in real-time and from several angles, making it possible to compute their trajectories in 3D, estimate their speed and determine their potential fall location with a precision of the order of a few hundred metres”, says François Colas, the principal investigator of the FRIPON project at Observatoire de Paris.
At the moment, it’s down to researchers to conduct ground searches for space rock. But in the next few years, FRIPON will be taken over in the field by the Vigie-Ciel network who plan to use trained volunteers to collect the fallen meteorites.