NASA cameras track down shooting stars
The NASA cameras' wide-angle lenses can see the whole night sky and capture images of fireballs.
March 1st, 2011
01:47 PM ET

NASA cameras track down shooting stars

Some folks make a wish when they see a shooting star. If they wish to know what they saw, where it came from and where it went, that wish may soon be granted.

NASA is establishing a network of small cameras to watch the night sky for meteoroids. Computers will crunch the data the cameras gather, using a method called triangulation to plot the streaking objects' paths.

"If someone calls me and asks 'What was that?' I'll be able to tell them," said William Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "We'll have a record of every big meteoroid that enters the atmosphere over certain parts of the U.S. Nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it."

All cameras in the network send their fireball information to Cooke and to a public website.

What are commonly called shooting or falling stars can be bits of dust from the moon, the tail of a comet, the asteroid belt or pieces of man-made space junk falling back to Earth. As these objects enter Earth's atmosphere, they heat up and glow.

Space scientists often can tell what an object was by which part of the sky it came from and its angle of flight. And by following the trajectory using the new cameras, they might be able to figure out where more of them land, Cooke said.

Cooke is looking for schools, science centers and planetariums to host his cameras. Details can be found here. He also has materials for teachers to help students become amateur meteoroid hunters.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Huh

    " "If someone calls me and asks 'What was that?' I'll be able to tell them," said William Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office."

    I have to admit I don't work at NASA, so I don't know for sure, but I have a hard time believing this EVER happens.

    March 1, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • thearchaicrevival

      Maybe he means friends? Relatives?

      March 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      As I'm SURE that you cannot get his number, OR be put through to his office, I'd hazard a guess that he is speaking of astronomers and other scientists.

      And maybe the meteorite men...

      March 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • gjellenbecker

      Actually I saw a strange shooting star last night, more fireball than anything. I was wondering if maybe it was a piece of space junk rather than a solid rock. I also saw a really big one about a month ago that was a cool blue-green color. It would be neat to be able to identify these things.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • me too

      I saw one last night as well. It was pretty cool a quick flash of red and then it was gone.

      March 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Auntie Warhol

      Just because YOU don't wonder about this kinda thing doesn't mean NOBODY wonders. And "if someone calls me and asks . . . I'll be able to tell them" is a turn of phrase. Just means he's curious, and others probably are too, and he'd like to know, and others probably would too. Go back to sleep.

      March 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vrrooomm Vroom

      When some of that McSpacejunk bonks me on the head now i'll know who to sue.

      March 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MYS3LF

    We don't need to pay NASA to do this. Amateur astronomers have been doing this for decades.

    We go from having the greatest space program in the world to now being about to start hitching rides with the Russians. NASA has other things to worry about. Astronomers – professional and amateur alike are watching the skies for any obvious threats. And I've got news for you. If a rock heads our way from the direction of the sun – we won't see it until its too late.

    March 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      You are all knowing.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      With experts like MYS3LF on the job I feel much better about the state of science in this country. Heck, amateur astronomers have been doing this for decades he says. Although I have never heard of amateur astronomers being able to track the height and speed by triangulation of every single object beyond the brightnes of Venus, but MYS3LF assures us that we don't need to be paying NASA to do this. How much are we paying for this MYS3LF? And what would be the proper amount?

      March 1, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Yes! We need no centralized tracking and monitoring system in place! Why, a few thousand amateurs and a few hundred professionals can track METEORS. Forget those silly stars and planets, we can have them simply monitor the skies and magically get the information together for tracking!
      Now, let's review: NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration. So, observing things aeronautic is OBVIOUSLY outside of their purview on the planet Stupidia.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      You have news for us? Oh, lord, I can't wait.

      March 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. hoofleau

    And nothing will collide with the earth w/o you knowing about.

    March 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • LeeCMH

      If the sun were to supernova, the plasma ejecta will reach earth in near light speed. The whole planet will vaporize is less than a second. You won't know what hit you.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Lee, there are exactly and precisely three chances of the sun going supernova.
      Slim, fat and none.
      Too little mass. But, if the laws of physics suddenly were canceled and it COULD go supernova, 8 minutes and change later, we'd be irradiated to death, losing the atmosphere in the process. THEN the superheated plasma would finish off the job at about 9 to 12 minutes after supernova.
      As the laws of physics haven't changed since milliseconds after the big bang, I suspect they'll stick around for us.

      As for "something hitting us", there is something and there's SOMETHING. Something is ALWAYS hitting us. SOMETHING, such as a dinosaur removing asteroid is NOT what is being monitored by these cameras.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lacey

    Wonder what they'll do with all the UFO data they collect? MUFON would be an nice repository =)

    March 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      I WAS considering that one. My flying saucers would just be put on the pile, but now I'll have to be SUPER careful where I land my flying cups!

      March 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    While both professional and amateur astronomers do watch the sky, few, if any, scan the sky continuously which is what would be required to ascertain trajectory and possible landing zone of falling debris or meteroids. Professionals have neither the time nor the money to dedicate resources to this task and amteurs are just that. Crunching data to determine trajectory, etc, requires a significant amount of samples. And for the record, the likelyhood of anything approaching earth from the direction of the sun is extremely small due to the gravitational pull of the star. But that's just my $0.02 worth ...

    March 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      I'll take your well thought out $0.02 worth over MYS3LF's knee-jerk reaction anyday.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Googliano

      Couldn't agree more.

      March 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ken

    NASA sucks money from more important science. Everyone in the field knows it. NASA engineers called the space station a "welfare project for NASA engineers". This is another fine example of NASA science. Why do you need to cover the whole US? Can't you get sufficient statistics with the 3 cameras that you have set up (from public website). Public website also says "meteoroid data will be used to help space designers". How did they manage up till now? And what exactly can they do differently? Meteoroid hits your spacecraft, it's going to be a rough day.

    One thing we do need is a full space survey of near Earth asteroids, and last I heard this project was starved for funds.

    March 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      Along with the survey, how about a real plan?

      March 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. EdR

    "Nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it."

    Unless of course its a cloudy night.

    March 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      That's deep science. You must know this one:
      A Russian, an American, and a Blonde were talking one day. The Russian said, "We were the first in space!"  
      The American said, "We were the first on the moon!"   
      The Blonde said, "So what? We're going to be the first on the sun!"  
      The Russian and the American looked at each other and shook their heads.  "You can't land on the sun, you idiot! You'll burn up!" said the Russian. 
      To which the Blonde replied, "We're not stupid, you know. We're going at night!"

      March 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • katie


      March 1, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. arealwimp

    "...8 minutes and change later, we'd be irradiated to death, losing the atmosphere in the process."

    Will it hurt?

    March 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. scott

    I believe Charlie Sheen shoots them out of his finger

    March 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • myklds

      Thanks for the good laugh.

      March 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. spacejunkie

    With all of the reasons to watch to the skies, you'd think they might actually focus on watching for only those objects big enough to cause damage as they strike our fragile spaceship Earth. Wait though, he did say that they could tell where these objects were coming from and I'll bet then redirect a few of the bigger cameras already on fulltime duty to look in that direction... Some of you may think NASA is a waste of money, but I bet you'll be the first one banging on the door of their escape craft when a moon-sized asteroid is bearing down on the Earth! (Point: if we do not track anything we can falling from the skies, we may not have any warning and our insignificant little species will join the billions of extinct species in the universe.)

    March 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scotty

    Didn't say if these were still cameras or video. I can envision all the UFO aficionados now asking for copies of the images to back up or disprove their sightings. Its actually a very good idea anyway. I can imagine lost airplanes being found as well. And, of course catching stuff falling from space to the Earth. Im actually surprised something like this hasn't been done on the Internet already by private individuals.

    March 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. SB

    I think some of you guys may have misunderstood. This isn't about detecting and tracking dangerously large rocks from far away. This is about watching the little grains, flakes and pebbles that burn up in our sky all the time. It's cheap and it will provide buckets of data for people to go through.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ed bailey

    The extinction of our dumb butts is inevitable. Just look! The only question is when!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  14. ed bailey

    Hope it hits utah first!

    March 2, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. buck

    Katie do you like the planet jupiter. I bet you do. How about Neptune pretty blue. I like Uranus Katie.

    March 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
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